ComEd under Fire for Conservation Efforts Utilities in Illinois Spend about Half as Much as Other Midwest Companies

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Byline: Lorilyn Rackl Daily Herald Staff Writer

ComEd and other Illinois utilities fall at the bottom of the list in the Midwest for spending money on energy conservation, and critics say that is largely to blame for recent electricity shortages.

While electric utilities in other Midwest states shelled out an average of $30 million in 1996 to promote conservation and energy efficiency, Illinois' utilities spent only $12.4 million, according to Citizen Action of Illinois.

Had ComEd done more to curtail customers' energy use and keep a lid on electricity demand, the utility could have avoided asking people to turn off their air conditioners during last month's heat wave to avoid rolling blackouts, critics say.

"This is not a problem that crept up on us in the last two weeks," Citizen Action Executive Director John Cameron said. "We're confident that if ComEd had an aggressive, strong program for energy efficiency and conservation, we wouldn't be facing the current situation."

The current situation - one where electricity supply and demand levels are uncomfortably close - is coming under attack from all fronts.

Politicians have latched onto the controversy and turned it into a campaign issue.

Democratic governor candidate Glenn Poshard on Monday lambasted ComEd for its problems during the recent heat wave.

Poshard unveiled a laundry list of changes he says are needed to make the utility more reliable, including forming an energy efficiency task force and making ComEd pay at least the Midwest average to promote conservation.

Republican opponent George Ryan called on the Illinois Commerce Commission to encourage companies to build more power-producing plants, among other things.

Former state Treasurer Pat Quinn plans on asking the ICC today to fine ComEd for rolling blackouts and compensate customers with a year's worth of refunds on service charges.

ComEd officials, who will go before the ICC today to talk about summer reliability, defended their conservation and energy efficiency programs, which include incentives for customers to cut back energy use during peak demand time. …