No Agreement on Utilities' Deregulation Open-Market Electricity Unlikely in Illinois for 2 Years, Some Say

Article excerpt

Plans to throw Illinois' utility industry open to competition hit a major setback Monday, after seven weeks of talks between legislators, electric companies and consumer groups failed to produce an agreement.

As a result, any legislation that goes forward this year to deregulate the state's utilities likely won't have the backing of all the major players - a factor that could doom the prospect of open-market electricity for the next two years, sources said.

Monday was the self-imposed deadline for a 70-member committee of legislators and others to come to an agreement on a massive deregulation plan that some say would save average consumers hundreds of dollars a year. Gov. Jim Edgar has cited utility deregulation as a major goal of his administration. But ultimately, the electric companies and others couldn't agree on how to do that. Instead, legislators and representatives from Edgar's office now will try to hash out the final issues without more input from the electric industry. Many legislators have said they do not want to vote for a bill with which the utility companies don't agree. The utility companies will lobby heavily against any bill they don't want. "The legislative parties are going to have to decide all these other terms," said State Rep. Vincent Persico, R-Glen Ellyn. "I think (the state's utilities) are all feeling pain right now." Persico said that unless the legislation was passed in the next two weeks, it was unlikely consumers would have a choice in their electricity supplier for another two years. "Obviously, the chances of getting a bill are slimmer than if this committee had reached an agreement. Especially given the time left," said Robert Kelter, attorney for the Citizens Utility Board, a consumer-advocacy group that has supported deregulation as a way of saving money for electricity customers. Illinois is divided by region into various electricity service areas run by different companies, which are regulated by the state. …