If last week’s storm and widespead power outages proved anything, it’s that the infrastructure in place to deliver electricity throughout northern Illinois is woefully inadequate.
About 850,000 ComEd customers lost power during the Monday storm. And tens of thousands of customers remained without power on Saturday, more than five days later.
The storm in question was not a Category 5 hurricane (of course, it couldn’t have been in northern Illinois), nor did it spawn a single tornado. Yet it overwhelmed the utility during the heat of the summer.
One thing’s certain: It’s unacceptable that thousands of McHenry County residents and others in the region remained without power into the weekend.
In the wake of the storm, we’ve heard several arguments for improving the area’s infrastructure.
The most obvious has been to bury all power lines, where heavy winds and downed trees can’t damage them. But that’s an expensive proposition, one that ComEd estimates would cost five to 10 times what it costs to put up overhead lines. And, of course, such costs would be passed on to consumers.
Others say that ComEd does not do enough to maintain its lines, or to make sure they are free of overgrown tree branches. We agree with this assessment, though acknowledge that it’s impossible to ensure that all overhead power lines are free from potential falling trees or branches. ComEd used the storm and widespread outages to lobby for the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act (SB 1652).
This legislation, which passed both Illinois chambers in the spring but faces a veto threat from Gov. Pat Quinn, would create a “smart-grid” system designed to measure electricity demand so production can be adjusted to match, reducing waste and expense. ComEd said such a system would automatically pinpoint outages, allowing the utility to dispatch crews faster and more easily.
Quinn and the Citizens Utility Board oppose the legislation because ComEd customers would be required to pay for a significant portion of it through increased electric bills. We like the concept of the smart grid, but we don’t like the idea of increased rates.
Given the expense to ComEd for cleaning up after this latest storm, we suggest it and lawmakers get back together and negotiate a better deal for consumers.