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Peoples Gas seeks record-high gas bill increase for customers

Peoples Gas requested a $402 million rate hike for next year, while environmental and community activists are protest against it

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The Illinois Commerce Commission will vote next month on a proposal to increase rates for Peoples Gas customers that could result in the biggest hike seen in Illinois.

If passed, bills could increase $11.83 each month for the average customer starting next year.

"This is the first time in nine years we've requested a rate adjustment, and we need it to ensure the ongoing safety, reliability and environmental sustainability in the system," said Peoples Gas spokesman David Schwartz. "The pipes in Chicago’s heating system date back to the 1800s. They are rapidly corroding; they need to be modernized."

Meanwhile, environmental activists are calling on the ICC to start investing in alternative methods of energy.

"We don’t think consumers should be having to spend more money to rebuild fossil fuel pipelines," said activist Caroline Wooten. "We have solutions. There are induction stoves, there are heat pumps. ... We want to be investing in that rather than investing in fossil fuels. We need to start now if we’re going to transition, and we want it to be planned.”

Dozens of activists showed up to Thursday's ICC meeting to make their final plea before the commission votes on Nov. 16.

"The world is changing. Our understanding about the gas system should change with it. If it doesn’t, Illinoisans will pay the price," JC Kibbey of the Illinois Natural Resource Defense Council told commissioners.

Others advocated for those in Chicago already struggling to pay their gas bills.

Peoples Gas said they believe the decrease in cost of natural gas will offset their hike.

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 earlier this month 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 the record-high increase of $402 million.

The commission will also vote on hike proposals by Nicor and ComEd by the end of the year. ComEd's requested $1.5 billion rate increase would raise the average Chicago household electric bill by $17 over the next four years.

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