Consumer groups applaud rejection of Illinois utility rate hike requests

(The Center Square) – In what was a surprise to many, the Illinois Commerce Commission rejected the requested rate hikes proposed by the state’s major utilities.

Members of the ICC approved rate hikes for the four major natural gas utilities, but the board slashed the requested rate increases by as much as 50%.

Consumer advocates calling for more regulatory oversight on Illinois utility companies applauded the decision.

“Definitely a strong step forward,” said Jim Chilsen, director of communications with the Citizens Utility Board. “The Illinois Commerce Commission gave the utilities a strong message that it is no longer business as usual in Illinois.”

In one case, the ICC slashed the amount that Nicor Gas was requesting by nearly 30%. The ICC also cut out $36 million from a $71 million increase requested by Ameren Illinois.

"We are reviewing the details of the Commission’s decision and will have more information in the coming days," said Nicor spokesperson Jinnifer Golz. "The additional funds are needed to help us meet evolving regulations, continue to modernize our system and recover inflationary costs. However, even with this rate increase, Nicor Gas’ distribution rates will remain among the lowest of any major gas distribution utility in Illinois."

Overall, the ICC reduced the companies requests for infrastructure spending, citing a lack of evidence that increased rates were necessary to maintain system safety.

“As the state embarks on a journey toward a 100 percent clean energy economy, the gas system’s operations will not continue to exist in its current form. Identifying how our gas and electric systems can adapt to meet these goals, and what specific actions should be taken to achieve them, will be an important task for the commission moving forward,” ICC Chairman Doug Scott said.

The ICC also disallowed $101 million and $5.5 million to Peoples and North Shore Gas’ respective rate requests for their natural gas delivery services in the state. The commission’s decision is approximately 25% and 34% lower than the utilities’ initial requests for $403 and $16.5 million in respective increases.

"The days of the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) rubber-stamping rate hikes for Peoples Gas as they enjoy year-after-year of record profits appear to be over,” the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition said in a statement. “There’s a new sheriff in town, and we applaud the ICC for significantly reducing the record-setting, exorbitant Peoples Gas $402 million rate hike request. Make no mistake, this rate hike is still onerous, especially for low-income customers on Chicago’s South and West sides where up to 48% of customers are already behind on their bills and accumulating late fees, which Peoples Gas concedes drives their profits.”

It is anticipated that one if not all of the utilities will request a rehearing to challenge the ICC’s rulings.

The ICC also included a new low-income discount rate for customers whose incomes are up to 300% of the federal poverty level.

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