Lightfoot pressures ComEd to negotiate on utility contract

The city issued a request for information to help officials determine if they can find an alternative to providing electricity to Chicago.

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A ComEd worker installs an electric meter.

ComEd and the city entered into contract for electricity in 1992. Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants a number of conditions met for a new contract.

Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is putting pressure on ComEd to negotiate with her on a new utility contract by issuing a formal request to any parties that can provide alternative ideas for delivering electricity to Chicago.

The request for information, issued Friday, seeks “ideas and expressions of interest to inform the City’s planning and determinations regarding future electricity delivery.”

The city’s long-term contract with ComEd, a 1992 “franchise” agreement, expired last year. Lightfoot has pushed the Chicago-based utility to bargain with her for more than a year. She wants a shorter contract as well as company promises to help the city meet renewable energy and efficiency goals, improve infrastructure and eliminate customer disconnections.

The formal request sets a May 28 deadline for responses and suggests the city isn’t getting concessions from ComEd.

“I’ve made it clear to ComEd what I expect in a new franchise — more accountability to Chicagoans, a continued focus on reliable electricity delivery, fast and transformative progress on our citywide climate goals and an equitable way to lower costs for residents,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “Whether it’s continuing to disconnect residents during the COVID-19 pandemic or recent rate increases, it is clearer than ever that we need an electricity franchise that delivers better results for our residents.”

A statement from the city says the request doesn’t end the relationship between Chicago and ComEd; rather, it “serves as a due diligence effort” to ensure “the best electricity franchise possible.”

Lightfoot’s administration earlier evaluated whether the city could take over the electric grid from ComEd but a study concluded that would be very expensive.

The mayor has tried to gain leverage by publicly denouncing the utility’s role in a federal corruption investigation, which has led to the indictment of former company officials, a $200 million fine and a deferred prosecution agreement in which ComEd admits its executives and representatives bribed a public official to get favorable state legislation. While not named in court documents, prosecutors make clear the official is former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

In a letter to ComEd Chief Executive Joseph Dominguez last July, Lightfoot said the city expects the utility to implement comprehensive ethics reforms.

In another letter to Dominguez in September, Lightfoot said the city will not renew its contract with ComEd unless she receives a substantive plan including details on ethics reforms, an end to disconnections, the elimination of late fees and help for the city to reach Lightfoot’s clean energy and climate-related goals.

It’s unclear who would replace ComEd as Chicago’s electricity provider but Lightfoot’s tactic of requesting information already is being tried in San Diego. That city recently opened up bids for its gas and electric service providers, though the process reportedly drew the interest of only one company, the city’s longtime utility San Diego Gas & Electric. 

In a statement Friday, ComEd said it’s making progress on some of the city’s requests, including pledges related to energy efficiency and assistance to low-income customers.

ComEd “shared many additional ideas that will enable Chicago to provide equitable access to clean transportation, job training and jobs, clean and renewable energy and programs that will help customers reduce energy and save money,” the statement said. 

Prior to the 1992 agreement with the city, the utility had an even longer contract dating to 1948.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.  

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