Chicago City Council passes resolution calling on state to rein in troubled Peoples Gas pipe replacement program

Media Contacts
Abe Scarr

State Director, Illinois PIRG; Energy and Utilities Program Director, PIRG

Illinois PIRG Education Fund

The Chicago City Council today passed a resolution calling on Gov. J.B.  Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly to reform the troubled Peoples Gas pipe replacement program. The program has been beset by management missteps, cost overruns, and an inability to reduce pipeline failure rates. The program is increasingly unaffordable for many Chicago residents: in 2019, Chicagoans fell $60 million behind on their heating bills and Peoples Gas sent out more than 300,000 disconnection notices. 

The resolution, which passed out of the city’s Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy with the support of Mayor Lori Lightfoot in March, calls “upon Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly to restore necessary oversight of this troubled program, and take adequate action to protect Peoples Gas customers and the public interest.” State legislation to restore traditional Illinois Commerce Commission oversight to gas utility infrastructure spending was sent to the House Executive Committee in March. 

“Now more than ever, when the coronavirus pandemic has increased the number of customers who need relief, there is no justification for wasteful, unnecessary utility spending,” said Abe Scarr, Illinois PIRG state director. “The Peoples Gas pipe replacement program is a mismanaged, poorly designed, bad deal for Chicago. We didn’t give Peoples Gas a blank check, and we can’t afford to waste money on upgrades we don’t need, especially when we could be investing that money on cleaner, safer energy to heat our homes.”

The Illinois Commerce Commission, under previous leadership, chose not to exercise its regulatory authority over the program at the end of a two-year investigation in January 2018. At its meeting last month, the Commission ordered Peoples Gas to submit a formal response to an engineering study of its distribution system published in January 2020. The study found that the Peoples Gas program has not adequately reduced pipeline failures, echoing a topline finding of an outside program audit published in May 2015.

The City Council resolution and state legislation have been supported by a broad coalition of organizations including AARP Illinois, Illinois PIRG, the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), Illinois Action Now, LUCHA, the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA), Housing Action Illinois, the Center for Changing Lives, the Heartland Alliance, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Environment Illinois, Faith in Place Action Fund, Blacks in Green, the Northwest Side Housing Center, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Center, Chicago Physicians for Social Responsibility, One Northside, and the Jane Adams Senior Caucus.