ComEd starts hiring for smart-grid plan

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel and ComEd President and COO Anne Pramaggiore announce elements of a $1.1 bilion electric system infrastructure investment plan at the Robert W. Galvin Center on the campus of IIT, 10 W. 35th St. Wednesday, January 4, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

With a promise of 2,400 jobs for Chicago, ComEd on Wednesday launched the hiring blitz it promised in exchange for a $2.6 billion rate hike that will finance “smart-grid” technology.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a news conference with ComEd President Anne Pramaggiore to tout the benefits of legislation denounced by Gov. Pat Quinn as “smart greed” for the campaign contributions the utility lathered on state lawmakers who overrode the governor’s veto.

The hiring will begin with 350 to 400 Chicago jobs this year and up to 2,400 over the next decade, Pramaggiore said.

That rosy figure includes 1,000 construction jobs, much of it tied to regular system upgrades. They include putting some power lines underground, shoring up above-ground lines to insulate them from wind and tree damage, making $50 million in improvements at O’Hare and Midway Airports and upgrading the Crawford and Fisk sub-stations.

Another 1,000 jobs will be tied to energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. Annual spending on those projects is expected to increase by at least $40 million or 26.6 percent, under the smart-grid legislation.

Pramaggiore predicted that 150 jobs would be generated by a $22.5 million Science and Energy trust fund created to support “energy innovation entrepreneurs.”

The final 150 jobs will be created by two companies hired by ComEd to support the smart-grid system that will allow consumers to monitor their energy use.

They are: Silver Spring Networks, the Silicon Valley-based company hired to design and deploy the networking platform and communications system and Choctaw-Kaul Distribution, a Native-American owned distributor that will provide Edison with the power tools and protective safety equipment needed to do the work.

“The jobs cover a wide-range of skills: engineers, work planners, construction workers, communications specialists and workers with manufacturing skills,” Pramaggiore told a news conference at the Robert W. Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation at the Illinois Institute of Technology, 10 West 35th St.

“To support the enhanced workload, ComEd will build a new training center on the Southwest Side of Chicago. Here, we will train splicers, laborers and linemen. And we will use the construction of the training center to help train Chicago’s next generation of architects” with a design competition involving college students at accredited architecture schools.

In his failed campaign to uphold his smart-grid veto, Quinn likened consumer-friendly improvements to the rate-hike bill to putting “perfume on a skunk.”

On Wednesday, Emanuel made the legislation sound and smell rosy.

And the mayor categorically denied that, by embracing smart-grid and the rate hikes that will bankroll the system, he was abandoning his right to hold ComEd’s feet to the fire after the utility’s dismal performance in last summer’s violent storms.

“I don’t think anybody’s ever said Rahm is a very quiet, meek person. That’s never been said. I don’t think [wife] Amy would describe me that way. I don’t think my kids would. I don’t think my family members or my friends would,” the mayor said.

“I will use my voice [when necessary]…They don’t get a pass because they made this investment. They have a resonsibility and I will hold them to that. And they woudn’t expect anything less….This is an essential thing to do. You can’t get from here to there without it. But even if they do this, there will be problems.”

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