Garrett Bill Would Hold ComEd Accountable
Task force of municipal officials drafts white paper for state senator to turn into legislation.
When state Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest) called a meeting in July to bring municipal officials and ComEd executives together to resolve some of the problems arising from severe summer storms, Glenview Village Manager Todd Hileman asked to attend.
Little did Hileman know he would be volunteering to head a task force examining ComEd's response to outages. On Tuesday, he and others presented the results of their work during a news conference sponsored by the Northwest Municipal Conference in Chicago: a white paper that Garrett hopes to turn into legislation to hold ComEd accountable for its actions.
More storms, more problems
Hileman served on a similar task force three years ago after an earlier series of storms and thought some progress was made. But when Glenview's Village Hall lost power for more than a day in June, he realized he was mistaken.
“The problems were virtually the same,” Hileman said. ”The one thing they did was assign external affairs personnel to each municipality. They were of little help. ComEd was unable to provide information for two or three days.”
A new, better plan
This time the task force designed a plan for ComEd with input from the municipalities. Unlike previous efforts, ComEd did not have the opportunity to shape the discussion, according to Hileman.
According to the new plan, when municipalities determine an area outage emergency exists, ComEd must establish an operations center staffed continually with all available methods of communication including fax, telephone, texting and email.
Garrett, who was flanked by state Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) and state Rep. Karen May (D-Highland Park), explained she had given the white paper to the Legislative Research Bureau (LRB) in Springfield two weeks ago to be drafted into legislation. The LRB is a bipartisan agency that drafts all legislation for the General Assembly, according to May.
Wilmette Village Manager Tim Frenzer also worked with ComEd in the past to resolve issues. One of the things that motivated him to join the task force was a communications failure by the utility.
“I received a message from them telling me a crew was at the site,” Frenzer said. “What they didn’t know was I was standing on the site and no one was there.”
Unlike companies like UPS and agencies like most suburban police forces, ComEd is unable to track its vehicles.
“The system avoids liability,” Frenzer said, explaining the corporate rationale.
Holding ComEd accountable
A number of people who spoke, like Northwest Municipal Conference Chairman and Wilmette Village President Chris Canning, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and Bannockburn Mayor Jim Barkemeyer, want ComEd held accountable.
Rotering told the group how the Highland Park Police Department was without power for four days and the main fire station for three.
In Bannockburn, Barkemeyer explained how the Village removed a live wire from the Village’s main north south street that would have taken three days if it waited for ComEd.
“A citizen said ‘I’ll get my electrician’ and he wound the wire around a pole,” Barkemeyer said. “Our police commissioner took a chain saw and removed the tree from the road.”
Responsibility is part of the plan.
“If they don’t perform they will lose their exemption from liability,” Frenzer said of the proposal that would require ComEd to reimburse customers for failures that cause a refrigerator full of food to spoil. Profitability will also be reduced.
'Not tough enough'
Garrett has a clear idea of what she wants to see in the bill. She recognizes it may ultimately be part of larger legislation that includes the implementation of the smart grid. The smart grid legislation which was vetoed by Gov. Patrick Quinn last month.
“The bill will require accountability, reliability and communication,” Garrett said. “Everything we have seen shows more has to be done to insure the ComEd bill meets the expectations of the community and the customers.”
Accountability is a worry Garrett, May, Nekritz and Rotering discussed before the meeting. They want the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) to have the authority to enforce the new requirements.
“We have to clarify the ICC can come in and deal with loses,” May said. “Who is supposed to follow up on this (complaints against ComEd)? It should be the ICC. The ICC needs to be more consumer oriented.”
Some have argued the ICC can only regulate rates. Garrett thinks the agency has more authority and ComEd recognizes this.
“ComEd went to them about exemption from damages,” she said, referring to an effort by the utility to avoid paying for spoiled food. “The ICC has not been tough enough.”