Suburbs ask state to hold ComEd accountable

October 12, 2011

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Suburban governments are turning to the Illinois General Assembly to force utility provider ComEd to provide better response to widespread power outages.

Leaders in the Northwest Municipal Conference say the company needs to improve its communication with them during widespread power outages. They also want ComEd to improve its power restoration process and invest more in its electrical infrastructure.

“We don’t know, and I don’t believe ComEd has, performance measures to say that, yes, this is how long it should take to restore X outage or Y outage,” said Christopher Canning, president of the Village of Wilmette and head of the NWMC. “Our challenge to the General Assembly is that if communities are out of power — police stations, fire stations, village halls are out of power — what is an acceptable time in which ComEd has to restore those outages?”

Canning says ComEd’s slow and haphazard response to several widespread and prolonged storm-related outages over the summer hamstrung municipal efforts to bring critical safety services, like fire and emergency response, back online quickly. The Conference has submitted a white paper to legislators to ask them to create performance and accountability measures for the utility company, and to force ComEd to pay damage claims if it falls short. There is such a provision that allows outage victims to seek compensation under the Illinois Public Utilities Act, but in most cases ComEd seeks and wins exemptions from having to pay those claims.

Fidel Marquez, Senior Vice President of Customer Operations at ComEd, says the company is aligned with suburban leaders in wanting to improve its outage response. But he says setting a deadline to restore powers after storms won’t necessarily solve the problem. “Conditions may be so different and significant from storm to storm that a simple measure like that really becomes almost something that makes no sense,” said Marquez.

State Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Highwood) plans to draft legislation using the NWMC’s recommendations.