Electric bills spark sticker shock

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The news: Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed a bill in August that would have allowed ComEd to impose a $155.7 million rate increase. “It may be a dream-come-true for Commonwealth Edison, but it’s a nightmare for consumers of Illinois,” he said.

Behind the news: The electric bill for an average Illinois resident is $279 for the months of November and December. For residents living in five of Chicago’s 77 community areas, the amount is enough to make up at least 5 percent of the average household income.For residents in the South Side community of Riverdale, their bill amounted to 7 percent of the average income—the highest in the city. The second highest percentage was found in another South Side community, Fuller Park, at 6 percent.

For Lincoln Park residents on the North Side, by comparison, only 1 percent of the average household income is spent on electricity, on average, in November and December.

Proponents of the rate hike said the new revenue would be used to build new delivery infrastructure, which could lower electricity costs over time.

“Ultimately, the goal is for people to spend the least amount of money possible on the staples—whatever that may be,” said Tom Wolf, the executive director of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce’s Energy Council. “You want them to get reliable service and a good product. When it comes to electricity, that’s a good investment.”

Jim Chilsen, communications director of the Citizens Utility Board, said that people generally are willing to pay their fair share to keep their families warm, but the issue is one of fairness.

“Low-income families are having a harder time affording utility bills, and we have to ask ourselves if that’s fair and what we can do to help families stay healthy,” Chilsen said.

“Utilities are often the lifeline that families have, and it’s how they stay healthy. When that’s taking up an exorbitant amount of their budget, that leads to problems,” he said.

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