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Quinn vetoes Smart Grid, lawmakers talk override

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SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn surprised no one this morning when he vetoed the Smart Grid legislation backed by the state's two largest utilities.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn surprised no one this morning when he vetoed the Smart Grid legislation backed by the state's two largest utilities.

The proposal would have allowed Ameren Illinois and Commonwealth Edison Co. to rebuild their electric grid and distribution networks over the next decade without going through the regulatory process. Both utilities said Smart Grid would speed up infrastructure improvements.

But the legislation also would have allowed the utility companies to raise customers' monthly rates for 10 years — Ameren by $3.40 and ComEd by $3.

Those increases doomed the Smart Grid plan.

"All of this is being done to merely guarantee double-digit profits, while diminishing ComEd's accountability to rate payers as well as regulators," Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said during a Chicago news conference. ComEd serves Chicago and the northern third of Illinois.

The governor took his opposition a step farther when he issued his veto Monday.

"We're just not going to sign off on a blank check," said Quinn.

The governor said he agrees that ComEd and Ameren need to modernize the state's electric grid, but said the utility companies can accomplish this without special legislation.

Quinn and advocates, like the senior citizen group AARP and Illinois consumer watchdog the Citizens Utility Board, said Monday that lawmakers need to try again with a proposal to upgrade Illinois' electric infrastructure.

State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, said he doubts lawmakers will tinker too much with the Smart Grid legislation when they return in October for the fall veto session.

"I really think this is going to be a straight up or down veto vote (to override)," said Jacobs. "And it will either pass on its merits or not pass."

Jacobs is quick to say he believes the veto and much of the opposition to the Smart Grid legislation is "politics."

"Quinn is looking at sort of a 1960s politics. It's no secret that he started out with (the Citizens Utility Board), and he still seems to be locked up with that," said Jacobs. "It's really hard for me to understand how anybody could be opposed to legislation that would provide more stable electricity access to people who need it."

Quinn began his political career by pushing for the creation of a citizens' watchdog group that became the Citizens Utility Board. The governor on Monday recalled how ComEd fought him back in 1983 as he pushed to create CUB.

"I can remember a ComEd lobbyist back then, telling me, 'Never in a million years will you have a Citizens Utility Board in Illinois,' and we got it in one year. That's how we're going to sustain the veto," the governor said.

During the spring session, the Smart Grid proposal passed the state House on a 67-47 vote, and barely survived the state Senate on a 31-24 vote. To override the governor's veto, the House will need 71 votes and the Senate, 35.

ComEd and Ameren said in separate statements that they hope lawmakers will take up the issue when the General Assembly returns in October.

Quinn said he's not surprised.

"There is no question that there are a number of powerful forces that Commonwealth Edison has brought to bear in Springfield," said the governor. "They go down there and button hole legislators. Our job is to tell legislators the truth."

Lawmakers return for the fall veto session Oct. 25.

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