FILE - ComEd, smart meter

This Sept. 6, 2013 photo, shows Brian Malloy, a senior energy technician for Commonwealth Edison, replacing a standard electricity meter with a new "smart" meter in North Riverside, Ill.

(The Center Square) – Illinois’ largest public utility is facing a lawsuit in federal court seeking refunds for large portions of consumers' electric bills dating back nearly a decade, possibly amounting to billions of dollars, dating back nearly a decade.

The Citizens Utility Board, a Chicago-based consumer watchdog group, filed the suit in federal court Tuesday, accusing Commonwealth Edison of passing legislation that unjustly hiked rates thanks to their admitted bribery scheme to curry favor with House Speaker Michael Madigan. 

The utility admitted as such in a deferred prosecution agreement attached to a $200 million fine. 

In the suit, CUB says ratepayers are entitled to all benefits and profits ComEd had obtained by corruptly passing the 2011 Energy Infrastructure and Modernization Act. The law changed the rate formula in which power utilities charged customers. CUB said the rate structure is still in effect today, continuing to benefit ComEd.

“While utility consumers would always have been harmed by unfairly high rates, the harm is particularly acute this year, as hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic,” the complaint read. “Many Illinois residents and businesses have fallen behind on their utility bills. ComEd, meanwhile, continues to reap the benefits of its nearly decade-long scheme – even after admitting what it has done.” 

The complaint asks for “treble and punitive damages” a legal term meaning triple what was gained unjustly.

“ComEd has paid a $200 million fine to the federal government but customers haven’t gotten a penny,” CUB spokesman Jim Chilsen said. “Our lawsuit aims to ensure consumers see fair compensation for the company’s misconduct.” 

Joining them in the lawsuit is former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who shared responsibility for CUB’s formation in 1983.

ComEd didn’t respond to requests for comment but has insisted the 2011 law resulted in “substantial ratepayer savings” and increased reliability in their electrical grid.

The suit references ComEd’s patronage scheme to influence Madigan but doesn’t name him directly. Madigan has not been charged with any wrongdoing and denies any accusations. 

CUB was the subject of an expose by WBEZ claiming the organization had received grants from a third-party nonprofit that received money from ComEd. State law bans utilities from giving to CUB. The station cites other advocates who claim the funds compromised CUB’s integrity.

Chilsen stressed the funds were part of consumer advocacy grants that they would be remiss not to have applied for. He said the group has always had a strong record of fighting ComEd, including the federal lawsuit.

“We're one of dozens of groups across the state that apply for the grants,” he said. “We use that money to hold free events for consumers across the state to show people how to cut their utility bills.”

WBEZ is also partly-funded by ComEd.


Regional Editor

Cole Lauterbach is a regional editor for The Center Square covering Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.