After expending much energy on creating a plan that Illinois lawmakers, community activist and power company officials can agree on, consumers now have relief from their rising energy costs.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation last Friday that is expected to make utilities more affordable for individuals on fixed incomes or are whose services are facing disconnection.
Quinn signed the measure-also known as Senate Bill 1918-at the Austin Senior Satellite Center, 5071 W. Congress Pkwy. Under the new legislation, utilities companies will make payment plans more available to residents.
“Energy costs continue to rise and Illinois families are feeling the crunch,” said Quinn during the press conference.
The measure will also allow eligible customers to pay no more than 6 percent of their income toward their energy expenses, and it will extend the funding for the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which would aid eligible residents in paying their utilities.
Additionally, the law expands energy-efficiency efforts. This would allow customers access to green-friendly tools, like weatherization products, for their home.
“This legislation allows many people to keep their energy costs down and use the extra money to pay for their important and basic needs,” said Quinn.
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-4th) and downstate Rep. Bob Flider (D-101st) sponsored the bill, which was backed by American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
The most challenging element of creating the bill, said Scott Murrer, assistant state director on utilities issues, was getting energy companies on board. Mainly, for them to agree on a resolution that will address customers facing past debt from bills they could not afford.
“On one hand, the power companies want to work with the customers to assure that the resolution would allow them to keep their lights on, but if the individual is $500 in the rears, they will have a hard time catching up, even if they qualified for assistance,” Murrer said. “As a result, there is an extra measure in the legislation that will [help in] paying down the bill.
“Qualified customers who have been paying their bill down loyally for about 12 months could receive a grant for up to $1,000 to pay the balance on the bill and maintain their service. Everybody wins: ComEd retains a customer and the customer retains their service,” said Murrer.
According to a recent AARP survey, many low-income and disabled residents allocate as much as 25 percent of their available income to their energy costs.
The survey also found that of the 1,000 individuals polled, all of whom were over age 50, 44 percent have had difficulty paying their energy costs in the past several months. Also, 63 percent have needed to adopt certain cost-cutting measures, such as limiting their energy usage and cutting medical care, to afford the rate hikes.
Sign up for the program will begin this September but it’s not expected to be fully operational until September 2011.
“The law will be in effect immediately, but it will be in review in 2011 to assure that it is a running effectively and aiding as many Illinoisans as necessary,” said David Irwin, spokesperson for AARP.