Biss Sees Solution to ComEd's Flawed Service
Representative chastises utility for its infomercial of smart grid legislation, proposes revisions to hold company accountable.
Accountability for ComEd may be no further away than the promised veto by Gov. Patrick Quinn of the utility’s cherished smart grid legislation.
State Rep. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) invited representatives of ComEd to a Town Hall meeting Monday in Glenview and chastised his guests for promoting the legislation. He then explained how revisions could alleviate many of the frustrations expressed by the more than 150 people who overflowed the Police Station.
One purpose of the meeting was to have ComEd explain its efforts to restore power after massive storms the past two months that left more than 1.2 million people in Chicagoland without power for days. The intention was also to let the citizens question the utility.
Currently in a legislative limbo, the proposed smart grid law provides for a 10-year plan to upgrade ComEd’s infrastructure with new technology better equipping the company to handle some of the massive storms of June and July.
The law passed the state House of Representatives, 67-51, and the state Senate, 31-28. Gov. Quinn has promised to veto the bill according to Biss. “He (Quinn) told me in very strong language he would,” Biss said.
According to Biss, the law is a favorite of state Sen. President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) who is using legislative procedures to keep it from the governor until he can persuade Quinn to sign it into law.
During his presentation and in answer to several questions, ComEd External Affairs Manager Eric Duray claimed the smart grid was necessary and would enable better service.
“It will let us know exactly who is out of power where,” Duray said. “It could have reduced initial outages (during the recent storms).”
Weather is not an excuse
After the third pitch, Biss interrupted Duray and let the crowd know why he opposed the bill. He would not accept weather as an excuse any more.
“This is the new normal and the smart grid you have been giving an infomercial for is not the answer,” Biss said. “The weather of recent summers is the new natural baseline we have to measure ourselves by.”
ComEd Vice President of External Affairs Michael Guerra explained the $1.5 billion; 10-year project was what the company needed for its strategic planning.
“The smart grid will let us better organize. We will be able to reroute power. We can switch automatically,” Guerra said. “It contains performance guaranties,” he added in response to a number of complaints the company was unresponsive to customers.
Biss would not let Guerra or Duray placate him or the crowd. Biss explained how the bill in its current form would reduce the regulatory power of the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC). He also explained the performance motivations.
“It’s a guarantee for these guys and a gamble for the rest of us,” he said. “The bill as it is will suck the ICC of its ability to oversee anything. We need to ratchet up performance by making them pay for lack of reliability.”
Biss wants to add enough teeth to the legislation to require ComEd to perform or face a meaningful penalty. “It must cost them more than they can afford,” he told Patch after the meeting of the motivation he wants.
Chronic outages are a big problem
A number of people, including officials from a seven neighboring communities along with state Rep. Robyn Gable (D-Evanston) and state Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), complained about poor communication from ComEd and small pockets of chronic outages.
Northfield Village President Fred Gougler made it clear citizens of his community wanted honesty from ComEd.
“There is a lack of communication between our residents and ComEd. The information is inaccurate and not credible,” Gougler said. “What can you do to let people plan? You need to take steps.”
Guerra, who heard the same criticism July 8 from state Rep. Karen May (D-Highland Park), from numerous Highland Park residents July 25 and from municipal officials and state Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest) Thursday, was contrite.
“We have to gather accurate information in the early part of the storm,” Guerra said. “It can be difficult to give accurate answers. We are going to make sure we don’t give information that is wrong.”
A number of people from Skokie, Glenview, Northbrook, Northfield, Wilmette and Evanston told about specific neighborhoods that experience frequent outages in good weather. Guerra asked several people for their contact information and promised to take a personal look.
“We are trying to identify areas that vary from the average,” Guerra told Patch after the meeting. “We plan to improve it and solve the problems,” he added to the project he wants to implement during good weather.
Glenview Village President Kerry Cummings wants to see traffic lights become a priority for power restoration. The outages during the June 21 and July 11 storms taxed the Village’s resources. Her call for action was a refrain heard from many of her colleagues.
“Willow and 294 was a nightmare. We provided the police to direct traffic there. Our community has been burned over and over,” Cummings said. “Tell us what communication you are working on.”
The response to the summer’s storms has united a number of local officials. Cummings and Gougler were joined by Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and Morton Grove Village President Dan Staackmann.
“This is a regional problem not only a municipal problem,” Rotering said.
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