Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Competition: Electrical Wave of the Future? Consumers, Utility Disagree on Pending Bill

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Competition: Electrical Wave of the Future? Consumers, Utility Disagree on Pending Bill

Article excerpt

Illinois Power Co. officials say they support a bill that would increase competition among electric utilities in Illinois.

That's the wave of the future, they say, and they believe Illinois Power can offer good rates in a more competitive situation.

But a consumer watchdog group says the bill, pending in the Illinois Legislature, doesn't go far enough toward protecting residential electric customers and other small users from higher rates.

Craig Nesbit, a spokesman for Illinois Power, said in an interview last week that the utility favors the bill sponsored by state Sen. William Mahar, R-Orland Park, "because we know that competition is coming to the utility industry, and if we don't prepare for it we're going to get behind."

Martin Cohen, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens Utility Board, said his organization opposes Mahar's bill because "it really doesn't fairly treat the concerns of residential customers."

Cohen said the bill would allow large industrial users of electricity in Illinois to shop for the best electric rates throughout the state. But smaller business users and residential users would have to pay the difference in lost revenue if a large user leaves a utility for better rates elsewhere, Cohen said.

"The benefits of competition would never come to residential customers under this bill," Cohen said in a telephone interview from Chicago.

He said his group would prefer a bill that would allow all electricity users equal access to competitive rates. No such bill has been filed, but Cohen and Nesbit agreed that Mahar's bill has little chance of passage this session and that the bill at least opens up an important debate on the future of electric utilities.

Nesbit contended that Mahar's bill would start a gradual, 10-year shift from the current electric-rate regulatory structure in Illinois to "a market-driven system where consumers have a choice of electric suppliers."

Cohen said he didn't like provisions in the bill that would allow large industries to find the best electric rates in the state starting in the year 2001 - but residential and small commercial customers would have to wait until at least 2006 to select their own electric suppliers. …

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