SPRINGFIELD — Illinois’ two largest utilities are trying a new sales pitch for a new power grid in the state.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois’ two largest utilities are trying a new sales pitch for a new power grid in the state.

Both Ameren Illinois, which serves 1.2 million customers across downstate, and Commonwealth Edison Co., which serves 3.8 million in the Chicago-area, want state lawmakers to approve the massive infrastructure upgrade that is part of the Smart Grid proposal.

Lawmakers have been wary, in part because Smart Grid would raise rates for customers across the state. Ameren customers would pay an extra $5 a year, ComEd customers would see their bills rise by nearly $36 a year.

JoAnne Johnson gets the electricity for her home in LaGrange from ComEd. And she said she already pays enough.

“I personally feel (ComEd’s) profits are astronomical enough that they don’t need to raise rates,” said Johnson said.

Smart Grid would overhaul the power grid for both companies, and include new wires, new substation technology, computer management upgrades, and even new meters for customers. Those “smart meters” would not require a meter reader. The new computerize substation technology could limit outages according to Craig Nelson with Ameren.

And those new technologies could, eventually, save customers money.

“They’ll have the tools in place to manage what they consume, and use less and spend less as they purchase,” said Nelson.

Johnson said she can’t remember any big problems with her service or her bill, but she is quick to say she is leery of any big company.

“I don’t believe much that is said by any big utility,” added Johnson.

Ameren customer Lynne Anderson-Loy from Peoria wants to know why her power company is coming to Springfield to raise her rates.

“They want us to fund their savings account,” Anderson-Loy said. “It seems to me that we pay enough and that Ameren should have started planning for a grid upgrade a long time ago,”

Both Ameren and ComEd say they have been planning for new lines, technology and delivery systems for years. But that process has kept the companies returning to Illinois regulators for permission to increase rates. The utilities insist Smart Grid would allow the work to move ahead on a planned, decade-long schedule.

Nelson said customers won’t realize the savings from the Smart Grid technology until the later years of a 10-year plan. He said customers would pay more now, but potentially save money later.

“The delivery charge (for power) is going to go up an average of $3.40 a year, so that in year 10 the delivery charge is $34 more than it would have been,” said Nelson. “On the commodity side there are savings that more than offset that.”

ComEd’s Val Jensen said customers in the Chicagoland area will pay more than downstaters. But he said the same Smart Grid efficiencies would help ComEd customers save money over time by also being more conscience of their utility use.

“What we do is help customers manage their energy budget. We give them value for the dollar that they spend with us,” said Jensen.

Lawmakers, however, remain skeptical. A vote on the Smart Grid legislation is not expected for a week or so. State Rep Andre Thapedi, D-Chicago, said his neighbors have been calling already and are worried that their power bills may increase.

“That seems to be the big drawback (to Smart Grid).” Thapedi said. “At least from the feedback that I’m getting. The money.”

Anderson-Loy said that skepticism makes her happy.

“It’s good to be skeptical. I’m glad someone is taking a look at the whole plan, and the truth,” she said.

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