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The Associated Press May 9, 2011, 5:20PM ET

Illinois gov doesn't back automatic utility hikes

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Monday he would veto the current version of legislation allowing automatic electricity rate increases to pay for electric grid upgrades.

Commonwealth Edison, Ameren and other utilities need to bear some of the financial burden for modernizing the electric grid, and the Illinois Commerce Commission must have the power to review rates to protect consumers, he said.

"They're big. They're behemoth. But they're not the people of Illinois," Quinn said, referring to the electric companies. "We cannot allow energy policy in Illinois to be run by a company or two."

A bill being considered in the Illinois House would amend state law to allow utility companies to raise consumers' electric rates without review to recoup the cost of infrastructure improvements. One of its co-sponsors, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, D-Orland Park, said he will make sure a forthcoming amendment includes language requiring all rate increases to be approved by the commerce commission.

Rep. Dave Winters, R-Shirland, another co-sponsor, said electric utilities won't upgrade their infrastructure without a guarantee they'll be reimbursed.

"The utilities are not going to upgrade to move us into new era of technology without a guarantee," Winters said. "We'll be stuck with 20th century technology when we're in a new century."

ComEd has said the legislation would enable it to invest $2.6 billion in infrastructure during the next decade. The company's president, Anne Pramaggiore, testified at a House committee hearing last month that the bill would boost the Illinois economy and improve reliability for customers.

Quinn said he supports a comprehensive energy plan that will create jobs, stabilize energy bills and encourage investment in clean, renewable energy. But he will veto the current measure unless the Illinois Commerce Commission retains the authority to review rate increases.

Quinn made his remarks at a news conference Monday in Chicago.

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