THE POWER OF YOU, THE POWER OF US

On July 25, 2011,  I asked ComEd to come back in 60 days with a plan to fix our repeated outages, remedy post-storm outage communications problems, and address our concerns about reliability overall.   A simple request, given that we pay our electric bills and have a contract with ComEd promising reliable electrical power.

The Current Plan

Monday night, ComEd brought its action plan to the City Council.   It appears that we are closer to seeing that many of our current public safety, public health and economic burden concerns caused by ComEd’s frequent and widespread outages are being addressed.

Click here for a recent article in the Patch and here for a recent article in the Highland Park News discussing specific areas in Highland Park that suffered from chronic outages and now are receiving equipment upgrades and intensive tree trimming.

ComEd’s current Reliability Enhancement Plan implementation began over Labor Day weekend as they sent a number of maintenance and construction crews, engineers and tree trimmers into Highland Park with the direction that they meet with customers reporting chronic outages, evaluate our entire system, and make some of the necessary repairs.

I maintained constant communication with Art Barsema, ComEd Director of External Affairs, throughout the holiday weekend (he and I spoke every four to six hours).  I received regular updates about outages, equipment repairs and tree trimming, and the conversations continue.  The end result was some intensive repair and upgrade work, significant learning and a commitment to remedy the identified chronic outage areas by the end of the first quarter, 2012:  a laudable goal.

Learning from the field:

- A significant amount of equipment has been in need of repair:  broken wire arms, slack lines, broken insulators, thermal hotspots, transformers repeatedly overloading or needing other repair or replacement, etc.

- 43% of Highland Park has experienced non-storm-related power outages in 2011.  43% have lost power on clear, blue sky days.  This is unacceptable.

- There is significant interfering tree growth.

- Virtually every day that we’ve been monitoring data from ComEd, the power has been out somewhere in our city.  Again, this is unacceptable.

And so questions are raised in all of our minds: “How did we get to this point? Why do we need such extensive repairs and tree trimming?”  The answer seems clear:  the system hasn’t been sufficiently maintained for a long time.

Where Do We Go From Here?

While the City is doing everything possible to work with ComEd on solutions, we ultimately do not control their actions.  And in the long-run, there is and always will be work to be done.

We must have a clear commitment from ComEd to ensure on-going reliable power to our city as promised in our Franchise Agreement.  To this end, I have three specific requests for ComEd:

1)    an on-going definitive plan that clearly articulates regular specific maintenance, infrastructure upgrades, and tree trimming;

2)   quarterly written reports summarizing problems reported and a plan and a timeline for work to be done to address these problems; and

3)   quarterly scheduled meetings to assess and address any serious issues that arise.

We Need Effective Oversight

It is also imperative that we have impactful regulation by the State.  At the August 12 Illinois House of Representatives Public Utilities Committee hearing held in Highland Park, it was clear that the ICC (the State watchdog commission for our public utilities) had few answers.   Anyone looking for comfort from the State in terms of providing oversight and demanding accountability, walked out of that meeting with serious concerns.

As you know, the Governor vetoed Senate Bill 1652 (the “Smart Grid” bill) this week.  While the technological upgrades included in the bill are absolutely worth supporting, the permitted rate increases, few penalties for non-performance, and diminished oversight and accountability are not.

Click here to see more about the Governor’s and Attorney General’s criticisms of the decrease in consumer protection set forth in the Smart Grid bill as currently drafted.

When the General Assembly reconvenes in October for its Veto Session, it will reconsider this bill and with enough votes, can override the veto, passing this insufficient bill into law.  At the moment, it appears that there are enough votes for the General Assembly to override the veto.

What We Can Do 

The only way to stop this veto override and push for a bill that is protective of our interests as consumers is to work together and communicate with the decision-makers.

Write to the members of the General Assembly and to the editors of ournewspapers.  Tell them that the people of Illinois deserve reliable electrical power, that we want laws that demand accountability by our electrical utilities and sanction poor performance, and that the Governor’s veto of Senate Bill 1652 should not be overridden.

In the meantime, I am talking to every State legislator who crosses my path about the electrical reliability problems Northern Illinois has been having, and the need for real oversight by the State and real commitment by ComEd to reliability, infrastructure maintenance and upgrades.  I am asking them to support the Governor’s veto.

In addition, the City is coordinating with our neighboring communities through the Northwest Municipal Conference, a Northern Illinois regional council of governments.  The forty-two local government members of the NWMC are working together to represent the 1.3 million citizens in their communities needing a solution to our collective electrical reliability problems.

As I said, we each are paying our bills every month in exchange for reliable power.  We need assurances from ComEd and our State regulators that they will hold up their ends of the deal.

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