On March 8, 2011, ComEd’s president, Anne Pramaggiore, testified before Illinois lawmakers on the urgent need to enact The Infrastructure Modernization Act. “We live our lives and conduct our business on the grid,” said Pramaggiore, as she describes a customer’s experience during a winter storm. “A few days after the blizzard of February 2011, a customer related to me his family’s blizzard preparation. Hours before the blizzard hit, he and his three children plugged in all their technology – iPhones, iPads, BlackBerries – to charge them fully in case they lost power. Their preparations did not involve flashlights, candles or canned goods but iPhones, iPads and BlackBerry charging. This is a big change.

This vivid description underscores the digital and technological advancements that our economy and our teens depend on. Yet as Pramaggiore points out, the electric grid and related policies have not advanced in 100 years. I agree with Pramaggiore regarding the need for urgent action and regulatory certainty. Alexander Graham Bell would be amazed that you can now buy movie tickets, check the weather and have a videoconference from a wireless device called a cell phone. Unfortunately, Thomas Edison would be bored with today’s electric grid because most of it would look familiar to him.

With investments required to update the grid well into the billions, stable regulatory policies and clear cost recovery models are essential. Pramaggiore testified about the swings in ComEd’s rate case results in previous years, one as low as 17 percent of the requested increase. Such regulatory uncertainty is bound to have a chilling effect on smart grid investments. HOUSE BILL 14, also known as the Infrastructure Modernization Act, is a policy-based approach that:

  • Identifies and directs appropriate investment.
  • Reforms the traditional regulatory structure to better enable the investment while preserving essential consumer safeguards
  • Creates a regulatory framework that includes performance requirements designed to ensure that utility investments deliver on the benefits they promise to consumers

I will be following this one closely as I grew up in suburban Chicago and most of my family still lives there. (HB 14 was amended the day after Pramaggiore testified.)