SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Senate will wait at least another week to vote on sending Gov. Rod Blagojevich legislation meant to roll back and freeze rates for people who buy electricity from Commonwealth Edison and the Ameren Illinois companies.

By ADRIANA COLINDRES


STATE CAPITOL BUREAU


 


SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Senate will wait at least another week to vote on sending Gov. Rod Blagojevich legislation meant to roll back and freeze rates for people who buy electricity from Commonwealth Edison and the Ameren Illinois companies.


 


If enough senators eventually vote yes on House Bill 1750, it would go to Blagojevich, who has said many times he would sign a rate-freeze bill into law. The House has already approved the legislation.


 


The Senate did not consider the issue Thursday. Senators convened in floor session for about a half-hour, taking up about a half-dozen bills before adjourning until next Thursday, June 14.


 


The Senate sponsor of the rate-freeze bill, Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, was not at the state Capitol Thursday. But he said in a phone interview later that if continuing negotiations on the electricity issue don’t produce an agreement “within the next week or so,” he would call the legislation for a Senate floor vote.


“There’s been a lot of movement,” he said of the negotiations, though he declined to get specific.


 


The utility companies have offered a $500 million rate-relief package that would target the hardest-hit customers. Lawmakers say they want more, and they also want to find a better and cheaper way for Illinois to buy electricity on a long-term basis.


 


The cost of electricity rose dramatically this year for customers of Commonwealth Edison, AmerenCIPS, AmerenIP and AmerenCILCO because of the expiration of a long-standing rate freeze that was part of the state’s 1997 deregulation law.


 


HB1750 would roll back electric rates to their 2006 levels, where they would remain for at least three years. In addition, consumers would receive refunds to make up for the extra money they’ve paid for electricity this year because of the higher rates.


 


But ComEd and Ameren have promised to fight any rate-freeze law in court, which means consumers might have to wait to see its benefits — if they ever do.


 


Meanwhile, Silverstein and other lawmakers are wondering why a group funded by ComEd has been running advertisements about the legislature and electricity despite ongoing efforts to hammer out some kind of settlement.


 


“I wish they would stop these ads,” Silverstein said. “I don’t know if it really helps the situation.”


 


The television and radio ads are to conclude a 10-day run today (Friday), said Avis LaVelle, spokeswoman for Consumers Organized for Reliable Electricity. ComEd funds the group, known as CORE.


 


The spots have been running statewide in every media market, said LaVelle, who would not comment on the cost of the ad campaign.


 


“The decision to air them was really driven by the fact that we’re at a critical juncture on the discussion on electric rates” and what might be done to help consumers, she said. “We need for people to understand what is at stake in all of this.”


 


“There isn’t anything inflammatory in these ads,” LaVelle added. “There isn’t any finger-pointing or blaming. It is an attempt to illuminate” CORE’s point of view.


The TV version of the ad, a 30-second piece, opens with a shot of the state Capitol. A female narrator says: “They’re at it again in Springfield.”


 


Various images flash onscreen, including video of a senior citizen who apparently is distraught about the size of her power bill.


 


The narrator continues: “Instead of backing $500 million paid for by the electric companies, some lawmakers are pushing a new, $2 billion energy tax that in the end will drive up costs for consumers and businesses.”


 


Rep. Bob Flider, a Mount Zion Democrat who has been involved with the electricity negotiations, called the CORE ads “silly.”


 


“What kinds of good-faith negotiations are those, when those kinds of ads are running?” he asked.


 


Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or adriana.colindres@sj-r.com.