Disagreement May Stall Electric Utility Deregulation

Article excerpt

Disagreement between the electric utility industry and Gov. Jim Edgar's office may scuttle hopes for an electric deregulation bill this session, sources say.

Despite more than 150 hours of closed-door meetings with about 70 Illinois legislators and representatives of utility interests, little agreement has been reached on the main issues: when the state's electric utilities will deregulate and how they will be run.

If the committee doesn't agree on a proposal, legislators have said they are wary about voting for a bill that the utility companies don't want. The Legislature is depending on the committee to present a plan on which all players agree. Last year, the Federal Regulatory Commission - the regulatory body that monitors interstate electricity transmission - issued an order forcing utilities to open their transmission lines to wholesale electric generators. That move paved the way for individual states to deregulate. Congress has been debating a number of bills this year to deregulate all aspects of utilities, so an open market may be inevitable. Illinois has the highest electricity rates in the Midwest, and its consumers the most to gain through deregulation. One study estimates an Illinois consumer who spends $1,000 a year in electricity costs may save about $300 in an open market. State Rep. Phil Novak, D-Bradley, the chairman of the committee, said he was "cautiously optimistic" that the group would agree on legislation today for the Legislature to consider in the remaining two weeks of the session. One area in dispute are some deregulation "principles" that Edgar's office requested be included. Any bill without them probably will not be signed by Edgar, said Terry Harville, Edgar's assistant in business and economic development. …