Don't worry, ComEd still has all the juice it needs

The investigation-beset utility remains as able as ever to get what it wants out of government.

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We doubt many of our readers are losing sleep worrying that the lobbying scandal that's engulfed Commonwealth Edison has impaired the Chicago electric utility's clout. But for those of you who may be tortured by such thoughts, take heart: Recent action by the Illinois Commerce Commission demonstrates ComEd is just as able as ever to get what it wants out of government.

The commission on Dec. 4 approved a $17 million reduction in ComEd's delivery rates as requested by the utility. Sounds like good news for consumers, yes? ComEd was quick to frame it that way in a , saying the average residential customer would see their monthly electric bill decline by 60 cents next year.

But, as Crain's senior reporter Steve Daniels explained on ChicagoBusiness.com the next day, the press release didn't tell the whole story. ComEd's net rates actually will climb $33 million next year thanks to a move late last month to boost ComEd's customer charge by $50 million for the energy-efficiency programs it administers. If you're inclined to search the internet for a similarly jaunty press release about that Nov. 26 ICC ruling, don't bother. ComEd didn't issue one.

Households still will see their delivery rates fall modestly even though ComEd's revenues are climbing, a spokesman told Crain's. The average bill will decline 20 cents instead of the 60 cents reported in the release. But, he acknowledged, that's only because commercial customers will see higher rates to ensure ComEd gets the increased revenue.

At the same time, ICC commissioners rejected entreaties by the office of Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to revisit a controversial decision they made last year to permit ComEd to take nearly 40 years to refund $384 million in excess payments it has received from ratepayers to cover taxes. In testimony filed with the ICC, Raoul's office said a more reasonable five-year payback period would have given customers a $62 million refund next year.

The issue was created when the 2017 tax law signed by President Donald Trump substantially reduced corporate taxes. ComEd had collected money from ratepayers in advance to cover tax payments that it had anticipated would be far higher.

79彩票注册网址"The customers whose rates included income tax expenses at the higher 35 percent rate, collected before the 2018 tax law change, should receive the refund of this excess amount currently in the . . . balance," Raoul's office argued in ICC testimony filed Oct. 30. "Amortizing this excess amount over 38 remaining years denies refunds to the very customers who paid ComEd's tax expense at the previously higher rate, and is fundamentally unfair to current ratepayers."

Put another way: You, dear reader, are likely to be dead before ComEd is done paying off what it owes you.

New ICC Chair Carrie Zalewski, an appointee of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, had an opportunity to embrace Raoul's more reasonable payback proposition and signal that, under a new administration, we've entered a cleaner, more transparent and more rigorous era of regulatory oversight of a company that clearly needs it. Zalewski—whose father-in-law, former Southwest Side Ald. Michael Zalewski, is enmeshed in the federal investigation swirling around ComEd—demurred. She and her fellow commissioners blessed the go-slow payment plan.

79彩票注册网址The Zalewski-led ICC's twin decisions in ComEd's favor leave an unmistakable impression: Despite the new occupant of the Governor's Mansion, despite new leadership at the ICC and despite a probe into the ties that bind this company and the lawmakers it relies upon for its very profitability, ComEd is hardly without useful friends in high places.

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