CHICAGO (CBS) -- As Mayor Lori Lightfoot weighs whether to renew its deal with ComEd to remain the city's official electricity provider, her office is seeking out potential competitors to potentially replace the scandal-plagued utility giant.
For the first time since 1992, the city is issuing a "request for information" from the electric industry, including ComEd, for a new electric franchise agreement, after ComEd's deal with Chicago expired at the end of last year.
The mayor's office made it clear city officials have not decided to replace ComEd, but are weighing all options.
"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 is 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. This RFI will enable my administration to secure the best deal possible for Chicagoans."
The city has set a deadline of 4 p.m. on May 28 for potential electric providers to submit ideas for operating and managing the city's electric grid for homes and businesses.
Lightfoot's office said, after reviewing responses to its RFI, the city might either choose to negotiate a new franchise agreement with ComEd, or consider other partners and options. The mayor's office said it expects to move to the next step in the process later this year.
"The electricity franchise has only been renegotiated twice since the early 20th century, providing the City a unique opportunity to plan for Chicago's 21st century energy future," said Assets and Information Services (AIS) Commissioner David Reynolds. "We owe it to the residents of Chicago to explore the energy landscape to determine if there is another structure that drives accountable, reliable and affordable service to the residents and businesses of the city. Through this effort, the City is testing the market after 30 years of doing business with ComEd."
Some aldermen have suggested the city should operate its own electric utility, but a feasibility study commissioned by the Lightfoot administration last year determined it would cost the city $8.8 billion to run its own electric utility ($4.9 billion to purchase ComEd's existing infrastructure, and $3.9 billion to sever the system from the rest of ComEd's grid). Lightfoot has said the city simply can't afford to undertake such an effort.
In a statement, ComEd said discussions with the city have been "productive."
"ComEd is proud to affordably serve more than one million Chicago families and businesses with the reliable energy they have come to expect of a top-tier utility provider," spokeswoman Shannon Breymaier stated in an email. "No matter who runs the grid, the first priority is reliability because as all Chicagoans know the climate crisis is creating unprecedented weather events that in the last year alone have resulted in catastrophic grid failures in Texas and California, an experience that lies in sharp contrast to how our grid performed in August after the derecho."
"We believe our discussions with the city have been productive as evidenced by our recent agreements to expand energy efficiency and more than double the assistance to low income customers, as well our recently approved agreement with City officials and other stakeholders to provide unprecedented levels of support to families in need and to limit disconnections. We aim to build off of these recent successes and have just 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 use and save money," Breymaier added.
ComEd last year admitted to a yearslong bribery scandal that sought to curry favor with former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan for his support in advancing legislation relaxing state regulation of ComEd's rates by directing $1.3 million in payments to the speaker's associates. ComEd acknowledged it stood to benefit by more than $150 million from that legislation.
Madigan has denied any wrongdoing, but was forced to surrender his speakership this year, and later resigned altogether from the Illinois House, and gave up his seat as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.
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