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The Illinois Commerce Commission has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by Illinois PIRG Education Fund and GlidePath that alleged it deliberately excluded select consumer advocates and industry experts from participating in its NextGrid Study process, while allowing ComEd and Ameren to fund, shape, and approve a report designed to influence Illinois energy policy.
The final NextGrid report, which has been blocked from publication by a court injunction for more than a year, must now include the following disclaimer stating that the study was funded by ComEd and Ameren and should not be used to influence policy or regulation:
“This Report is not a consensus document and it is not intended to advise or guide legislators, regulators, or other policy makers, or to otherwise be used as a basis for legislation, regulation, policy, or ratemaking. This Report was funded by Commonwealth Edison and Ameren at a cost to the ratepayers of Illinois. The contract executed as part of the process states that the report is to be compiled for the ICC, under the direction of Commonwealth Edison and Ameren, and requires prior review by Commonwealth Edison and Ameren to be deemed complete.”
In June 2018, Illinois PIRG Education Fund, an independent consumer advocate, and GlidePath, a leading independent developer and owner of advanced energy and energy storage systems, sued the ICC and its former Chairman Brien Sheahan for violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act after they were excluded from NextGrid working groups. In that litigation, the ICC admitted that NextGrid meetings did not comply with the Open Meetings Act and agreed in a court order to comply with the Open Meetings Act thereafter.
The ICC claimed the NextGrid Study was an open and transparent process and issued a public call for interested parties to become members of NextGrid working groups. But through depositions and filings, the lawsuit revealed that the ICC, ComEd, and Ameren worked together with former Chairman Sheahan and handpicked individuals to determine which companies and individuals would be allowed to participate in the working groups and which would be blocked from doing so.
Witnesses testified that ComEd objected to GlidePath’s participation in the study before GlidePath was blocked from participating. Testimony also recounted how Chairman Sheahan decided to remove a member from a NextGrid working group and directed a staff member to disconnect the phone line of another participant during a working group meeting.
“The documents in this case show a state regulator working to benefit the very utilities it should be regulating by cherry-picking utility-friendly participants and excluding those that would challenge the utilities’ control,” said Dan Foley, founder of GlidePath. “It’s unfortunate that it took a lawsuit to bring these facts to light, but we hope this settlement will help reduce the undue influence utilities have held over our regulators for far too long.”
“When utilities are allowed to shape energy policy and regulation, the public suffers,” said Abe Scarr, executive director of Illinois PIRG. “We’re proud to have made this step toward increased transparency and public participation in Illinois’ energy system.”
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