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The Illinois legislature voted to override the governor's veto of the recent smart grid bill, allow utility companies to charge higher electricity rates in order to fund upgrades to the state's grid, according to The Associated Press. The move is expected to lead to higher electricity prices, but proponents insist it will save consumers money in the long-run.
Arguments between Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and the state legislature over the proposed smart grid bill have been ongoing for months, but the conflict has finally drawn to close. After the Senate approved a revised measure designed to draw in enough votes to overcome the veto on Tuesday, the House quickly approved the new version on Wednesday. Because the changes were attached as a rider and not written into the law itself, the vote served as an override of Governor Quinn's veto, putting the measure into law.
With the passage of the bill, Illinois will now begin the disbursement of more than $3 billion over the next 10 years on improvements to the electrical grid, largely focused around the implementation of so-called "smart meters," which actively monitor energy usage in a building at all times. These devices provide utilities with unprecedented information about electricity demand in a region and can help both to respond to rising demand as well as to identify problems.
In addition to the state funds, the utilities themselves will install many of these devices themselves. However, the law will allow electricity companies to charge higher electricity prices to cover these new expenses. This ultimately proved the sticking point for most legislators, many of whom opposed raising prices during a down economy, but utility companies insist that over the course of the 10 years consumers will ultimately save money because of increased efficiency, in addition to seeing more reliable service. Governor Quinn projects the average consumer could pay as much as $408 annually for the project, but utility company Commonwealth Edison estimates a much lower $36 per year.
Through July of this year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that Illinois payed electricity rates slightly below the national average, with residential customers paying around 11.65 cents per kilowatt-hours. However, EIA data shows those prices have risen almost 40 percent since 2006, leading to a nearly 6,600 percent increase in customers turning to alternative electricity providers since the beginning of the year, according to Plug In Illinois.