Metro-East News

State gets notice from local electric co-op — pay up or get shut off

A local electric cooperative has sent a final shutoff notice to the state of Illinois, threatening to cut the power to state agencies in the metro-east if the state won’t pay its bill.

Southwestern Electric Cooperative board President Alan Libbra confirmed the cooperative has sent a final notice to the state after months of nonpayment on its electric bills.

Libbra declined to say how many state facilities are delinquent in their bills or the amount they owe. He said SWEC sent the shutoff notice a few weeks ago but did not release it publicly.

“Officially we don’t talk about any of our members’ or customers’ bills or what they owe, but it’s out there now,” Libbra said. “We sent the letter to the appropriate offices, and who released it I don’t know.”

SWEC is a not-for-profit cooperative with 22,000 residential and commercial customers in 11 Southwestern Illinois counties, including parts of Madison, Bond, Clinton and rural St. Clair counties. Formed in 1939, the Greenville-based electric co-op maintains 3,500 miles of power lines and employs more than 80 people.

As a not-for-profit, Libbra said the co-op refunds any profits — called “margins” — back to the members.

“We charge the minimum required to keep ourselves viable,” he said. “We don’t have a big profit margin to be able to not collect our bills.”

We charge the minimum required to keep ourselves viable. We don’t have a big profit margin to be able to not collect our bills.

Alan Libbra, Southwestern Electric Cooperative board president

The letter from the cooperative was addressed to the state of Illinois via District 11 State Police headquarters in Collinsville. However, a spokesman for the Illinois State Police stated the district headquarters itself is an Ameren customer and does not receive electrical service from the cooperative.

The letter lists 70 account numbers for state agencies, but not the names of the agencies or buildings, and Libbra declined to name the delinquent departments.

The letter states that SWEC has “far exceeded our disconnection for non-pay policies, with some of the accounts being subject to disconnection as much as four months ago.”

Rich Carter with the Illinois Comptroller’s Office said under normal circumstances, state agencies would send vouchers to the comptroller, which gives them authorization to pay the bills.

“Without a budget or a court order, the Comptroller’s Office is prohibited by law from making payments,” Carter said.

But since those accounts are handled directly by the agencies, he said there was no way to know which buildings and agencies would be affected by the delinquent accounts.

Without a budget or a court order, the Comptroller’s Office is prohibited by law from making payments.

Rich Carter with the Illinois Comptroller’s Office

Representatives of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner could not be reached for comment.

State Rep. Dwight Kay, D-Glen Carbon, said he predicts it will be January at the earliest before the state gets a budget passed.

“It’s all politics; it’s not about people; it’s Illinois politics at its worst,” Kay said. “They could pass the budget tonight or tomorrow… (House Speaker Mike Madigan) is controlling everything that’s happening in the House, and virtually made us irrelevant as representatives.”

But Madigan’s spokesman Steve Brown said Kay is “100 percent incorrect.” He laid the blame at the feet of Rauner for vetoing all appropriations bills passed in May except for K-12 education funding.

“The speaker can get them to pass a budget, but he’s confronting the governor, who says that in order to pass the budget we have to damage the quality of life of middle-class people,” Brown said. “All the disruptions like this lie completely in that person’s lap. ... The only one who has caused this disruption is (Rauner).”

State Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton could not be reached for comment. His district includes much of SWEC’s territory.

The shut-off notice gives the state until Dec. 1 to make arrangements before power is disconnected to the state offices. Libbra said the electric cooperative is treating the state like any other customer.

“Hopefully they’ll work something out,” Libbra said. “We are not involved in the budget battles. We’re just trying to run our own business.”

But SWEC definitely will shut off the power, he said. “Yes, it will happen if we don’t get remittance,” he said. “Everybody’s alike; we can’t treat people differently.”

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald