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CUB seeks probe of electricity auction that sparked rate hikes

Jim Chilsen, Citizens Utility Board communications director, speaks during a press conference about electricity rate hikes. It was held at the East St. Louis Public Library Wednesday afternoon.
Jim Chilsen, Citizens Utility Board communications director, speaks during a press conference about electricity rate hikes. It was held at the East St. Louis Public Library Wednesday afternoon. News-Democrat

A consumer advocacy group is asking for an investigation of the auction for Illinois’ power supply after rates in the metro-east have increased by about 30 percent.

Jim Chilsen, a spokesman for the Citizens Utility Group, also known as CUB, addressed the issue during a press conference Wednesday afternoon at the East St. Louis Public Library. Chilsen said federal regulators need to look into the electricity auction amid the recent rate hikes because Illinois has been operating with a surplus in energy supply.

“This summer, many consumers across central and Southern Illinois are paying electricity prices that have jumped by about 30 percent, and there doesn’t appear to be a logical reason for it,” Chilsen said. “Today, CUB urges central and Southern Illinois consumers to help us deliver a strong message to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to investigate Illinois’ electricity market.”

CUB, which has represented consumer interests in Illinois for the past three decades, has typically been a nonprofit watchdog over local rates charged by Ameren Illinois and other state utility providers. This time, said Chilsen, the issue lies not with the delivery costs, but the cost of supply.

“Actually, Ameren’s actions are not in question here,” he said. “We do have some issues and some questions with some of the other energy generators in the state with companies that sell electricity to Ameren. But Ameren, by law, is not allowed to profit off the supply portion of your bill.”

Chilen said these auctions are conducted by the Midwest Independent System Operator to determine the capacity costs, or fees that consumers pay to power plant generators to make sure that utility companies produce and have enough electricity supply. He said during the latest auction last spring, some power generators “made a windfall” as capacity costs for Illinois were more than 40 times higher than the other 14 states participating in the auction.

Chilsen asked if power generators hold too much influence in determining such prices as the auction rules seem to be stacked against Illinois consumers.

“These auction results are absurd, unjust and unreasonable when you consider that Illinois has a surplus of power,” he said. “Rates shouldn’t be skyrocketing like this in such a power-rich state.”

Chilsen also said that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed a complaint with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asking for an investigation, and the Illinois Senate has issued resolution asking for federal and state review.

“It seems clear that there is something wrong with Illinois’ electricity market,” he said. “The price tag is a huge red flag that shows how the past auction and the rules that govern it are not working for customers.”

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 618-239-2526.

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