ComEd is being held responsible for the first time for continued, widespread outages that resulted in spoiled groceries and other charges after the Illinois Commerce Commission voted some outages could have been prevented.
Despite ComEd’s assertion that outages caused by summer storms in 2011 were caused by unprecedented and unpreventable weather, the ICC declared Wednesday in a 5-0 vote that some prolonged outages could have been prevented. The vote marks the first time ComEd has been held liable for financial damages their outages cause customers and towns.
In a two-year legal battle that followed six torrential storms in 2011 and left hundreds of thousands of ComEd’s customers without power for hours and sometimes days, the ruling would force ComEd to reimburse consumers for spoiled groceries and local governments for municipal costs.
Public law states that in the event that more than 30,000 customers experience an outage for four or more hours, the utility company is responsible for compensation to affected consumers and local municipalities. Companies are exempt when unpreventable weather conditions cause damage, however.
ComEd argued that the outages were due to unpredictable weather and the company was cleared for five out of six storms alleged in the case. The ICC said ComEd was not liable for outages caused by broken tree limbs, lightning and other weather-related issues, but that many of the outages experienced in the severe weather on July 11, 2011, were as a result of company failures such as lack of maintenance.
“The fact that the Commission is holding ComEd accountable in this case sets an important precedent, and we expect this decision will mean moving forward is that utility companies will be responsible for maintaining their facilities or face compensating consumers when they fail to do so,” said Natalie Bauer, communications director for the Office of Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
The more than 30,000 customers affected in the July 11 storms will be contacted by ComEd and told they may be eligible for compensation.
One customer said she experienced an outage for three to four days during the storm and had experienced more than 23 prolonged outages in the year prior.
Jane Mordini testified that she lost hundreds of dollars in frozen foods and perishable items but that she also lost family fish in the storm.
“My family has several fish tanks and we have lost several fish and animals from our fish tanks when power was out for several days at a time, such as during this summer’s storms,” she said in her testimony. “Last summer we lost expensive and rare sting rays and fish we have raised for over 10 years.”
After being contacted by the company, customers will need to file a claim, which the ICC must review before they will be issued their compensation.
In a statement, ComEd said they were “disappointed” by the ruling and will be requesting a rehearing before the Commission.
“We understand just how disruptive the loss of power can be to customers’ lives, and we are committed to making improvements to our storm restoration practices and communications efforts during those events,” the company said.