(EDITOR'S NOTE: With list of highlights at the end of story. They could be run as a series of bullet points in an accompanying chart.)


 


Months of negotiations have culminated in a $1 billion electric rate relief package for customers of Commonwealth Edison and the Ameren Illinois utility companies, key lawmakers said Tuesday.

Months of negotiations have culminated in a $1 billion electric rate relief package for customers of Commonwealth Edison and the Ameren Illinois utility companies, key lawmakers said Tuesday.


 


A vote in the legislature could happen as soon as this week, but some details remain to be resolved, said Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville.


 


“I think we pretty much have an agreement,” said Clayborne, the Senate Democrats’ point person on electric rates. “Still, logistically, we have to work out some issues.”


 


One matter still up in the air is whether consumers getting rate relief will receive checks in the mail or credits on future power bills, Clayborne said.


“It’s really not a hangup,” he said.


 


Clayborne said that some of the proposed deal will require legislative approval, and portions will need an OK from the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates aspects of the utility industry.


 


Lawmakers have been hearing for months from constituents who are upset about soaring power bills.


 


Beginning in January, the cost of electricity rose substantially for customers of ComEd and Ameren Illinois because of the expiration of a long-standing rate freeze that was part of the state’s 1997 deregulation law.


 


To date, lawmakers have proposed various solutions to the problem, but no plan has won House and Senate approval. For instance, the House voted to roll back electric rates to their 2006 levels and freeze them for three years, but that bill has not been called for a Senate vote.


 


In the meantime, officials from utility companies, the legislature, the attorney general’s office and others have been meeting for months, trying to reach an agreement.


 


Under one condition of the pending electric rate relief deal, the General Assembly would not go ahead with the rate-freeze legislation, said Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria, who has served as Senate Republicans’ point person on electricity.


 


“In my eyes, this is probably the best we can do,” said Risinger, who believes a rate-freeze law would wind up as the subject of a courtroom battle.


 


Risinger said the pending deal is worth $1.1 billion, with “the lion’s share” coming from Exelon Corp., the parent company of Commonwealth Edison.


 


Rebates “of some level” will be distributed to all Ameren and ComEd customers, with the largest rebates going to the all-electric customers who have been hit with the highest power bills because they use electricity to heat their homes, he said.


Risinger said he favors giving customers “credits” on future power bills, rather than sending them rebates in the form of checks.


“The problem with checks being written is a lot of people haven’t paid their bills in full now,” he said. “So you’d be writing checks to people that really haven’t paid their electric bill.”


The pending deal also addresses longer-term issues concerning electricity, Risinger said.


 


For instance, $25 million is to be placed in a trust fund, with the interest to be used to finance a new entity that will determine how Illinois should buy electricity in the future. The creation of that entity will mean the end of the “reverse auction” process that was used for the first time here last year to set the rates presently in effect.


 


“The whole idea of putting this all together is to get the best possible rates that we can when we purchase power,” Risinger said.


 


Others who have closely followed the electric rate controversy expressed guarded optimism.


 


“I’m hopeful, cautiously,” said Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion. “But we’ve been hearing for two months it was close, so the proof is in the pudding.”


 


David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, said his group is withholding judgment until it can examine details of the agreement and ensure it is in the best interest of consumers.


 


Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or adriana.colindres@sj-r.com.


 


==


Here are highlights of the pending agreement on electric rates:


-- Four-year relief deal worth $1 billion to $1.1 billion.


-- Exelon Corp. providing the bulk of the money.


-- People who heat homes with electricity to see more relief than others.


-- “Reverse auction” process of buying electricity to be discontinued.


-- $25 million to be placed into trust fund to cover costs of new agency that will oversee how Illinois buys electricity in the future.


 


-30-