While negotiations remain at a standstill between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Commonwealth Edison over a new contract for the beleaguered utility giant, city officials gave other firms interested in the lucrative city deal another two months to make their pitch.
Firms have until July 30 to submit their pitch to operate and manage the electric distribution system that serves residents and businesses in Chicago, officials said.
“We have received input or questions from a variety of interested parties and it became clear to the city that additional time would be needed for potential respondents to craft a full response that addresses the complexity of governance, transparency, equity and neighborhood development, and want to be sure we give that time so we can best assess where the market is and what opportunities the city has,” said Asha Binbek, a spokesperson for Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
The last time the city inked a new deal for its electric utility was 1992. Lightfoot will insist that any new deal address “economic hardship across Chicago” and reduce emissions while “catalyzing a more sustainable economy.”
City officials had been poised to craft a new deal with ComEd when leaders of the state’s largest utility admitted as part of deferred prosecution agreement that officials arranged jobs, contracts and payoffs to associates of former House Speaker Michael Madigan in return for the powerful lawmaker’s support for laws that allowed ComEd to hike electricity rates. The firm agreed to pay a $200 million fine to resolve federal corruption charges.
Madigan has not been charged and has said he did not act improperly. Weakened by the scandal, the Southwest Side Democrat lost his speaker’s post in January and resigned from the Illinois House and the head of the Illinois Democratic Party in February.
Lightfoot sent CEO Joseph Dominguez a letter in September agreeing to a new round of negotiations over an agreement — but warning him that the talks would consist of less “give and take” and more of ComEd simply agreeing to the city’s demands.
ComEd spokesperson Shannon Breymaier said the utility would submit a proposal to the city by the new deadline.
Lightfoot has said Chicago officials cannot afford to take over the city’s electric grid and deliver electricity directly to Chicagoans, which has been proposed by the Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
A study released in August 2020 found that would cost the city $9 billion. Aldermen and the mayor balked at that price tag, and the effort languished.
It is not clear whether any other firms would be interested in providing electricity to Chicago residents and businesses, since that firm would face many of the same costs and hurdles that apparently made a city-run utility an impossibility.
That study found it would likely cost the city $4.9 billion just to purchase the poles and wires and transmission equipment ComEd uses to light up the city’s 1 million homes and businesses.
Department of Assets, Information and Services Commissioner David Reynolds summed up the bind the city finds itself in with ComEd in a September appearance before the City Council’s Environmental Protection and Energy Committee.
“It is not like we are buying copy machines, and can go to another copy machine service,” Reynolds said. “ComEd is the only place we can buy electricity.”
The Illinois Commerce Commission is weighing a request from ComEd to allow the firm to increase what it charges ratepayers $51 million in 2022.