CHICAGO (Legal Newsline) - Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and a coalition of consumer advocates Wednesday voiced their opposition to a legislative proposal that they say would impose automatic annual rate hikes on millions of consumers' utility bills.

The bill, as currently introduced by State Rep. Kevin McCarthy, D-Orland Park, would eliminate the long-standing utility rate review process through the Illinois Commerce Commission and allow utility companies to impose automatic rate increases for 10 years.

Opponents of House Bill 14 say it would significantly weaken the long-standing, balanced regulatory system, leaving millions of residential and business consumers with a limited voice in the approval process.

The measure, they say, also allows for future rate increase requests to go through a "fast track" review process as opposed to the current review process, which allows for a more thorough investigation.

Madigan, the AARP, the Citizens Utility Board and various consumer and environmental advocates, including Citizen Action, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, the Latino Organization of the Southwest, South Austin Coalition and the Environmental Law and Policy Center, came together at the Austin Senior Center on Chicago's West Side to announce their opposition to HB 14.

"ComEd is trying to ram a bill through the Legislature that will guarantee increased profits by increasing rates paid by consumers," Madigan said in a statement.

Bob Gallo, AARP Illinois senior state director, agreed.

"We don't want consumers to be fooled into thinking that House Bill 14 is about smart grids," he said in a statement. "House Bill 14 is about higher rates and bolstered corporate profit margins. It is a wolf in sheep's clothing."

According to the bill's language, it provides that an electric or gas utility may voluntarily elect and commit to undertake the infrastructure investment program consisting of "certain commitments and obligations." It also provides that the utility shall recover the expenditures made under the infrastructure investment program through the ratemaking process, including, but not limited to, the formula rate and process.

The measure also sets forth additional provisions concerning the approval of the formula rate by the commerce commission, annual formula rate updates, revenue-neutral rate design changes, and performance plans.

As of Friday, Rep. Andre M. Thapedi was removed as chief co-sponsor of the bill and a third House Floor amendment was referred to the rules committee, according to the General Assembly's website.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at

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