A study outlining the cost of creating a public electric utility in Chicago and cutting Commonwealth Edison out of the picture is allegedly complete, but one alderman says city officials won’t release it.
Ald. Daniel La Spata and activists called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to release the feasibility study during a press conference on Facebook Monday morning.
“We know that the city has a draft of this feasibility study in hand, that they’ve had it in hand for weeks now, as all of this catastrophe with ComEd was playing out,” said La Spata, 1st Ward. “This study belongs as much to the people of Chicago as it does the city government.”
Lightfoot’s office did not immediately respond Monday morning when asked when the study would be released.
Earlier this month, ComEd and federal prosecutors in Chicago announced the company would pay a $200 million fine to the U.S. government as part of a deferred prosecution agreement to settle allegations it engaged in a long-running bribery scheme involving associates of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. The feds have since subpoenaed Madigan’s offices for records related to AT&T, Walgreens and Rush University Medical Center, along with a roster of Illinois politicos.
The cost of ComEd’s corruption to the utility giant’s more than 4 million customers in Chicago and Illinois has become a rallying cry for the activists and aldermen who have been pushing the city to municipalize its electric utility since last year.
“ComEd has used campaign donations, lobbying, and strategic hiring to take more and more money from the people to line their shareholders pockets,” said Liz Kantor, co-chair of the Democratize ComEd campaign. “We must abandon this model of greed and embrace a publicly-owned future.”
Kantor said the $200 million fine ComEd will be paying to settle the bribery charges is only about one year’s worth of profits the company makes in Chicago alone. The Democratize ComEd activists argue a public utility can give ratepayers more control over costs, and drive investment in clean energy and even other public goods, like schools, mental health, and parks.
“We’re not talking about moving from a corporate-controlled utility to a bureaucratically-controlled utility,” La Spata added. “We are talking about a democratically-controlled utility — a democratically elected utility board that makes sure that our electric utility is functioning toward the best interests of all Chicagoans.”
ComEd has said it would cost the city anywhere from $5 billion to $10 billion to buy the company’s infrastructure in Chicago. Those numbers have led Lightfoot to dismiss a city takeover of ComEd. Even in the wake of the corruption scandal, the mayor continues to say it would be a costly and challenging endeavor.
Lightfoot’s administration hired an outside consultant last October, NewGen Strategies and Solutions, to study what it would take to acquire ComEd’s infrastructure and run a public utility. The results of the feasibility study were supposed to be back in the spring, but it got delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
La Spata said the mayor’s team has told him the study is still in draft form, but he argued Chicagoans deserve to see it — even as a draft — ahead of a hearing scheduled for this Thursday.
The company is scheduled to provide a report to the City Council Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy Thursday as required under the terms of its 30-year franchise agreement.
Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.