SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he will veto Smart Grid legislation, which promises newer technology from Commonwealth Edison Co. and Ameren Services.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is looking for a little more late-game heroics.

The governor on Monday once again promised to veto controversial legislation headed for a vote in Springfield. Quinn said he would not sign the Smart Grid legislation, which promises newer technology from Commonwealth Edison Co. and Ameren Services. But also comes with a price.

“(The legislation from the utilities) that they have proposed for oversight of electric utilities in the state of Illinois is just not acceptable to the people of our state and the consumers of our state,” said Quinn.

Smart Grid would give ComEd and Ameren automatic rate increases. Ameren’s downstate customers would pay an extra $5 a year. ComEd’s customers would pay an extra $36 a year. But the companies would be required to spend millions on a new power grid, new meters, and new automatic technology.

Stacy Conklen, a 35-year-old medical assistant from Mount Sterling, isn’t giving Quinn a thumbs up for his promised veto. But she said she’s happy with anything that will keep her ComEd bill from jumping.

“Everything is going up. Didn’t they just have an increase not too long ago?” Conklen asked. “I can’t support a plan that would raise my power bill.”

Lawmakers, the Illinois Attorney General’s office, the Illinois Commerce Commission and consumer advocates have been meeting for months as they try to reach an agreement before the end of the spring legislative session.

But Monday’s comments at his news conference were Quinn’s first on the legislation. He said he now wants everyone to go back to the bargaining table.

“This is the businesses-end of the ball game. More will be done in the next three weeks than have been done in the last three months,” said Quinn. “Last week we made our position known on (legislation) that was coming up, and we were able to prevail on that. And I think we’ll be able to do that on this (legislation) that ComEd is currently proposing.”

The governor last week promised a veto of concealed carry legislation. The Illinois House a few days later failed to pass the measure.

Smart Grid’s legislative sponsor, state Rep. Kevin McCarthy, D-Orland Park, said the governor didn’t need to wait for a news conference to take a position.

“This is pretty late in the session. And many times in the past I’ve seen (proposals) get weighed down so heavy that they collapse from the own weight,” said McCarthy.

McCarthy said he’s been saying for months that lawmakers, advocates or anyone else who has problem with the Smart Grid plan should call him and let him know. McCarthy said he’d only heard rumors from Quinn’s office before Monday’s news conference.

Craig Nelson with Ameren said he’d also heard nothing from Quinn or any of the governor’s staff about opposition to Smart Grid.

“The whole legislative process is fraught with ups and downs,” Nelson said. “This is just part of that process.”

ComEd also declined to comment on the governor’s opposition.

Mike Lawrence, who worked with former Gov. Jim Edgar and headed the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said no one should be surprised that Quinn is against a proposal that could make big utility companies more money.

Lawrence is quick to point-out that Quinn made a name for himself establishing the Citizens Utility Board. The board was established by the Legislature. It represents the interests of residential utility customers across the state.

“The fact that he’s decided to weigh in on Smart Grid and concealed carry as the Legislature winds down makes sense,” Lawrence said. “He’s probably also become somewhat sensitive to the criticism that he hasn’t been engaging.”

Lawrence said the governor is staying true to his populist past. And Lawrence said lawmakers are staying true to their past.

“It’s really not unusual for legislators to complain about governors not being sufficiently engaged in a legislative session,” Lawrence pointed out. “Those criticisms have been made by many legislators regarding several governors at various points over the last several decades.”

Quinn said he now hopes to start work on a new version of Smart Grid.

“We have time, this month, really to negotiate something that is in their interest, the consumer’s interest, and the workers’ interest in Illinois,” said Quinn.

McCarthy said the plan is still a work in progress, but added that the final version may not be what the governor wants. And McCarthy said Quinn’s veto might not change that.

“I think if these last few things come together, in an agreeable manner, I think we’ll get a vote that is over the 71 that’ll be needed (to override a veto),” said McCarthy. “The governor, of course, still has the right to veto it no matter how many votes it gets.”

McCarthy said he may have a finalized Smart Grid plan by the end of the week.

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