Chicagoans speak out against record Peoples Gas rate hike

Media Contacts
Abe Scarr

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

Chicagoans turned out Tuesday evening to speak out in opposition to the proposed Peoples Gas rate hike at a forum hosted by the Illinois Commerce Commission. The proposed record-breaking $402 million increase would raise average residential rates by more than $140 per year, around $12 per month. 

Community members highlighted the existing challenge of many to afford their gas bills. In June, despite warmer weather and less gas use, Peoples Gas customers were collectively $117 million behind on their bills. In June, 50% of Peoples Gas disconnections were concentrated in ten Chicago zip codes on the South and West sides. Residents called on the Commission to lower the overall size of the rate increase and to lower the monthly fixed customer charge. 

Speakers also called on the Commission to rein in Peoples Gas’ struggling pipe-replacement program, cost estimates for which have ballooned from $2 billion to up to $11 billion. Despite years of being behind-schedule and over-budget, the pipe-replacement program is the largest driver of the proposed rate hike, and has been credited by Peoples Gas’ out-of-state corporate parent as contributing to six consecutive years of record profits. 

Finally, speakers questioned Peoples Gas aggressive spending on its gas system in light of local, state and federal policies supporting a transition to all-electric buildings. Chicago’s climate action plan has a goal of moving 30% of residential buildings off the gas system by 2035.

With the real possibility of a  substantial drop in Peoples Gas’ customer base, the utility’s  aggressive spending and rapidly escalating bills could intensify the energy burden felt by so many customers.  

In response to the public forum, leading consumer advocacy organizations made the following statements:

“AARP Illinois requested this hearing today because we know that Chicago’s older adults, especially those on fixed incomes, are struggling to keep up with inflationary pressures and are already behind on their utility bills,” said Philippe Largent, State Director of AARP Illinois. “The testimonies from older adults who showed up today, along with the 1,500 and counting petitions that AARP Illinois has received urging the ICC to stop this rate hike, show just how much our city’s older adults can’t afford this increase.”

“The state-record $402 million rate-hike request by Peoples Gas is unjust and unreasonable, and it will be a hardship for consumers,” said Ivonne Rychwa, Outreach Director for the Citizens Utility Board (CUB). “Using Chicago families as an ATM, Peoples Gas has reaped six straight years of record profits, affecting a growing number of Peoples Gas customers—and it will only get worse if the utility gets this excessive rate hike.” 

“The time has come to hold Peoples Gas and its failing pipe replacement program accountable,” said Illinois PIRG Director Abe Scarr. “Rather than approving the largest gas utility rate hike in Illinois history, the Illinois Commerce Commission should heed the overwhelming opposition voiced at tonight’s forum, limit the rate increase, and rein in the out-of-control utility spending driving up gas bills in Chicago.”