We filled the room to capacity at the Chicago Environmental Protection and Energy Committee hearing about the Peoples Gas record rate hike request. Ald. Bill Conway, who submitted the resolution calling for the hearing, opened the hearing by expressing the need to establish transparency and accountability because “consumers don’t have another option” for a gas utility provider.
The mood was set by public comments from five community members who described their personal experience dealing with gas affordability issues, and the harms of burning methane gas to health and climate. They each called on the Committee to urge the Illinois Commerce Commission to decrease the rate hike and establish oversight on Peoples Gas’ wasteful spending.
We appreciate that, rather than sending a spokesperson or lower-ranking executive, the President of Peoples Gas, Torrence Hinton, appeared before the committee to deliver testimony and answer questions, some that were tough. Of note, when questioned by Ald. Matt Martin, Mr. Hinton could not or would not explain what, if any, planning Peoples Gas was engaged in to prepare for a scenario in which many Chicagoans opt to leave the gas system by electrifying their homes, and the impacts that would have on those who remain in the gas system.
Our panel of experts, which included Abe Scarr, director of Illinois PIRG, Ivonne Rychwa, Outreach Director of the Citizens Utility Board, Christie Hicks, Senior Director & Lead Counsel, Equitable Regulatory Solutions for the Environmental Defense Fund, and Rev. Veronica Johnson, Outreach Director of Faith in Place, delivered testimony about Peoples Gas’ mismanaged pipe replacement program, widespread affordability problems, and the harmful health and climate impact of gas.
As I wrote in a letter to the editor in the Chicago Sun Times, the transition off the gas system has already begun on the federal, state, and local level. Ald. Daniel La Spata and Abe shared the individual steps they have taken to transition from gas to electric appliances out of concerns for the health of their young children. Peoples Gas’ continual investment in unnecessary gas infrastructure and the lack of planning for the future of energy will only complicate the transition and exacerbate the heating affordability crisis already occurring in Chicago.
Despite city budget hearings occurring at the same time as this committee hearing, many Alderpeople showed up to listen and ask questions of Peoples Gas and our panel of experts. The packed room proves the broad concern over Peoples Gas rate hike and the desire for more transparency from the company. We hope the committee will, as Abe challenged them to at the hearing, use future hearings on Peoples Gas and its pipe replacement program for greater transparency and accountability.
Utility Watchdog Campaigner, Illinois PIRG
Jordan works as a campaigner and organizer for Illinois utility campaigns, focusing on consumer protections and transitioning Chicago towards clean, renewable energy. Jordan lives in Chicago, where she enjoys reading and spending time outdoors.