Bright idea? Illinois OKs $3 billion plan to build out smart grid

Illinois lawmakers have adopted a controversial plan that will increase utility bills in order to upgrade the state's energy infrastructure.

Stateline Midwest Vol. 20, No. 11: November 2011

By overriding a gubernatorial veto in October, the Illinois General Assembly has paved the way for a 10-year, $3 billion investment in the state’s energy infrastructure.

The plan, as laid out in SB 1652, is for the state’s utilities to build out a “smart grid” that employs digital, interactive technologies to improve system reliability, reduce the frequency of outages and improve power restoration. In addition, smart meters will be installed in homes and businesses to help consumers track and manage their energy use.

According to the Chicago Tribune, multiple concerns were raised about SB 1652 as it advanced through the legislature: higher bills for ratepayers, a loosening of state oversight of the utilities, and a new formula determining the utilities’ annual profits. In response, the legislature passed a “trailer bill” to SB 1652.

That measure (HB 3036) reduces utility companies’ return on their investments, protects low-income residents from rate hikes, and requires that more than 2,500 statewide jobs be created at the peak of build-out of the smart grid. Utilities will face penalties for not meeting the jobs mandate, as well as for not improving performance and reliability.

Gov. Pat Quinn, though, still opposed SB 1652, saying it would result in “blockbuster annual rate hikes for consumers and businesses.”