The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Electricity Rates Going Up, Start Saving Now

By Matt Wood in News on Sep 7, 2006 4:00PM

chicagoist_2006_09_shock.jpgIt's a deregulation bonanza for utility companies in the Chicago area this year. Last week AT&T was handed an early Christmas present by the Illinois Commerce Commission when they were given the freedom to set their own prices for local phone service. And while we're still fretting about the thought of our phone bill doubling over the next three years, we get to face the specter of unregulated electricity rates from ComEd. We've seen this one coming since January, when the ICC approved an auction system for setting wholesale electricity prices to take effect in 2007, but as the new year approaches, details of this bitch-slapping by the free market are becoming clearer.

A University of Illinois professor quoted by the Sun-Times estimates that electricity bills could increase 20 to 60 percent over the next two years. On the low end that doesn't sound too bad. A modest $60 bill goosed by 20 percent would be $72. But we cringe to even look at the calculator if we add 60 percent to one of our summer bills when the AC is really cranking. Anyone ready for $300 bills next July?

The sticker shock is the result of a price freeze 10 years ago when the state began deregulating the industry. At the time, ComEd's prices were rolled back 20 percent and frozen through this year. Prices have gone up since then, so without the freeze, maybe we could have gotten used to the thumb screws being tightened ever so slightly each year instead of all at once. For it's part, ComEd isn't being coy about how much prices are going to jump. They're so smug that they're spending a chunk of change to taunt you about it, i.e. the prime-time commercials with CEO Frank Clark daring you to send him hate mail. He even holds up a stack of letters, probably as a hint that you won't be able to afford to turn on the computer and send an email.

A faint glimmer of hope might lie in a "real-time" pricing program run by the Community Energy Cooperative, in which customers could choose to have their electricity rates are set by the hour based on actual market demand, instead of one flat, yearly rate. This would allow them to adjust their activities according to the weather and time of day to get a better rate, much like waiting until 8 p.m. to use nights & weekends minutes on your cell phone. But Chicagoist thinks that sounds like a pain in the ass. We can't do the laundry before 10 p.m. without paying a fortune because it's hot outside? What the hell, are we living in the third world? Not to sound too selfish--we understand that sacrifices are needed if we ever want anything to change--but shouldn't we have a better option by the year 2007? Sadly though, as always, we really have no choice but to stop all our fist-shaking and jaw-clenching and pay the piper. Crap, how long has our computer been on? This column is getting expensive.