Oil & Gas

Cut recommended to Peoples Gas' record $402M rate increase request

An administrative law judge has recommended that state regulators approve a smaller rate increase for Peoples Gas than the utility asked for — but the increase would still add up to the biggest hike customers have ever seen in Illinois.

The proposed order filed Friday by Glennon Dolan, an administrative law judge for the Illinois Commerce Commission, recommended the panel vote to approve rate increases totaling about $350 million for Peoples Gas, which is seeking a record-high increase of $402 million.

Consumer advocates want to see the proposed hike slashed below $290 million, which would still top the state’s previous all-time high increase of $240 million approved for Nicor in 2021.

The five-member commission, which has the final say on where the rates land, is expected to vote on the increase in late November.

A $402 million increase would raise the average monthly residential bill by about $11.83 starting next year, a cost Peoples Gas says it expects to be offset by falling natural gas prices.

The proposed order’s $350 million increase would come out to an extra $10 per month.

While the commission has often followed proposed orders from its administrative law judges, Sarah Moskowitz, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, said she’s not sure what to expect from the panel this year. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has appointed three new members since March, including chairman Doug Scott.

“This commission is so new, we’re not really sure how they’re going to rule,” said Moskowitz, whose organization has urged the commission to cut the increase by $63 million and to “draw the line on Peoples’ relentless profit-mongering.”

“We hope this commission takes advantage of this chance to hold the utility more accountable,” Moskowitz said.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office has recommended regulators reduce the proposed hike by $49.2 million, asking the commission to “scale back Peoples Gas’ overspending” and asserting it’s “not in line with the state’s energy policies.”

Leaders at the utility have noted it’s their first requested hike in nine years, saying it “is meant to ensure ongoing safety, reliability and environmental sustainability in Chicago.”

“We continue to review all details of the proposed order,” Peoples Gas spokesperson David Schwartz said. “The findings confirm the important work we are doing to ensure Chicagoans have safe and reliable energy for heat year-round, and especially in our cold winters.”

Consumer advocates plan to hold a rally at noon Oct. 19 at Daley Plaza urging regulators to lower the hike. The commission next meets at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at 160 N. La Salle St.

The Illinois Commerce Commission is also weighing another record $1.5 billion rate increase request from ComEd, which would raise the average Chicago household electric bill by $17 over the next four years.

Copyright CHIST - SunTimes
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