An order introduced at a Chicago city council meeting could allow the city to own and operate Commonwealth Edison's (ComEd) Chicago facilities.
The utility's contract with the city expires Dec. 31, 2020. On Wednesday, 22 aldermen introduced an order directing the city council to conduct a study on the feasibility of municipalizing the utility's operations in Chicago. If passed, the Department of Fleet and Facilities Management will be required to complete and turn in a feasibility study by Dec. 1.
- The move comes as New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio's criticized Consolidated Edison (ConEd) Monday, suggesting the city may need "a new entity" controlling the grid after a weekend blackout left more than 70,000 residents without power.
Power outages, climate change and high power bills have all pushed energy politics center stage in the U.S., and some city and state leaders are growing frustrated with their investor-owned utilities.
"Chicago has an opportunity to define its energy future," said Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, one of the sponsors of the measure to study municipalizing ComEd, in a statement. "[T]hrough municipalization Chicago could accelerate decarbonization, and implement a progressive rate structure that ensures better rates for working-class Chicagoans."
The city's contract with ComEd, an Exelon subsidiary, has not been renewed since 1992. Illinois law allows cities to take over utility operations.
"ComEd customers are enjoying record reliability in the city of Chicago, where ComEd’s smart grid and other investments have reduced the frequency of outages by nearly 60 percent since 2012," the utility told Utility Dive in a statement. "This process is an opportunity to build on that progress, which has helped establish the region as a leader in energy innovation while keeping energy affordable for families and businesses."
In New York, DeBlasio did not explicitly call for municipalization of Consolidated Edison, but he did have sharp words for the utility.
"It's clear we have to question if ConEd, as it's structured now, can do the job going forward or whether we need to go an entirely different approach," he said. "So I'm calling for a full investigation and further that we examine whether we need a new entity to handle the situtation going forward because at this point I do not have faith in Con Edison."
ConEd said the blackout was caused by a failure at its relay protection system. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D, has directed the state's Public Service Commission to investigate the issue.
Maine, San Francisco and Boulder, Colorado, have all expressed interest in public utility ownership in recent years.
Following California's devastating wildfires and Pacific Gas & Electric's (PG&E) role in them, San Francisco's Public Utilities Commission in May released a report concluding city ownership of some of PG&E's grid assets could "improve reliability, affordability, and sustainability."
Boulder formed its own municipal utility in 2014, but Colorado's dominant utility Xcel sued the city, calling municipal efforts "premature." That lawsuit was settled in May of this year, dissolving that municipal utility, but the city said it still intends to put the matter of forming a municipal electricity provider to a vote in the future.
While Maine does not have specific legislation in place, legislative and regulatory leadership have both expressed frustrations with Central Maine Power, the state's largest utility.
Public Utilities Commissioners blasted the utility in a Sunday opinion editorial, promising to fully investigate a surprise spike in power bills. In March, Maine Rep. Seth Berry, D, told Utility Dive conversations were happening that could move the state toward a consumer-owned utility model.
"The days of the one monolithic utility that delivered power in one direction from far distance centralized generation sources is a dinosaur," said Berry. "It's a relic of the late 19th, early 20th century. And we're ready to move beyond that."
This post has been updated to clarify the Boulder settlement dissolved the municipal utility Boulder formed, not the city's efforts to form a municipality.