Like most people, Bill Brinson of Edwardsville doesn't give a
second thought about the economics or politics behind flipping on a
But if the electric utility monopolies in Illinois and Missouri
are forced into the open market, Brinson and everyone else could be
asked to choose their electricity suppliers.
Some consumers' electric bills could drop by hundreds of
dollars a year. But they may have to shop around for the cheapest
costs, sifting through an avalanche of ads, similar to what
happened after deregulation of the phone industry in 1984.
Brinson, like most residents of the Metro East area, is served
by Illinois Power Co. Its rates rank second-highest of the four
companies that have 85 percent of the power business in the state.
So Brinson stands to save money in a deregulation.
But he's aware of potential hassles.
"I almost dread the thought of utility deregulation," said
Brinson, 42, who lives in a four-bedroom house in Edwardsville with
his wife, Patty, and their three children. He is manager of
photographic services at Southern Illinois University at
Edwardsville; she is a teacher. Together they earn about $60,000 a
Illinois' electric companies are battling over how to
deregulate. Congress is considering legislation that would require
the 50 states to deregulate. The bill most likely to pass sets a
2001 deadline for deregulation. If the states don't come up with
their own plan, the federal government may force one on them.
The Missouri Legislature is expected to look at several
proposals this year.
Electric monopolies divide the states by regions. Under most of
the deregulation proposals, Brinson would be able to choose from
any of the state's major electric utilities, or from a nationwide
electricity wholes ale supplier. That power would be routed through
the existing power lines, with the companies "renting" the lines
from each other to reach their new customers.
"Utility deregulation will offer consumers lower electricity
prices, increased choices and reliable service they can count on,"
said Ed Cobau, spokesman for Central Illinois Public Service in
Springfield, which is merging with Missouri's Union Electric.
The state's utilities agree - reluctantly, in some cases - that
deregulation is going to happen. But the main players in the
consumer choice debate are divided about the details, especially
the question of whether an open market should be immediate or
"Deregulation is inevitable, especially since there has been
talk of doing it at the federal level," said Jennifer Eidson, a
spokeswoman for the Illinois Coalition for Responsible Electricity
Choice, a coalition of major utilities and business organizations.
"It's not a question of if Illinois should deregulate or not. It's
a question of how."
Illinois Rates High
Electricity rates in Illinois are about 30 percent higher than
the Midwestern average, mostly because of poor planning and bad
investments in inefficient nuclear plants, says the Citizens
Utility Board, a consumer advocate group.
The state also has large cost disparities among regions and
electric companies, varying by as much as 4 cents per kilowatt-hour
from one area to another. …