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Consumer Groups Want To Control Gas Bill Surcharge

(WBBM Newsradio) -- The meter is running on People's Gas' underground pipe replacement program, and advocate groups are pushing a legislative measure that would place more controls on the cost.

Groups like the Citizens Utility Board, AARP, and Illinois Public Interest Research Group (Illinois PIRG) are backing state Rep. Will Guzzardi's proposal, HB 4898, that would put the cost of the utility's pipeline replacement program under greater scrutiny.

Since 2009, People's Gas has been replacing a total of 2,000 miles of underground aging steel pipe. Each month, customers are charged an extra fee called a "rider," which the Illinois Attorney General's Office says is going to help double the average Chicagoan's gas bill in the next 20 years.

"People's Gas has treated this rider on the pipe replacement program like it's a blank check. This legislation would take away that blank check, and it would subject People's spending to a more rigorous regulatory scrutiny," CUB's Jim Chilsen says.

People's Gas says the current law provides a number of cost safeguards and regulatory reviews.

It calls Guzzardi's proposal a "surprise considering that the initial legislation, which was overwhelmingly approved by both houses of the legislature and signed by then Governor Pat Quinn, provides numerous safeguards such as built-in cost caps and thorough on-going regulatory reviews."

The People's Gas statement goes on to say the company believes its plan "continues to be the best approach to modernizing Chicago's aging natural gas delivery system that includes pipes that are over 100 years old."

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