The headline in Crain’s Chicago Business says it all:
What’s the sale of Integrys do for Chicago? Not much
Yesterday, Wisconsin Energy announced that it was buying Integrys, the parent company of Chicago-area utilities Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas, in a $9.1 billion deal.
But for a company pulling the corporate headquarters from Chicago, Wisconsin Energy hasn’t produced any consumer concessions to make nice with the Illinois Commerce Commission. (The ICC has to approve the deal along with a bunch of other state and federal regulators.)
“We want to make sure consumers are protected,” CUB Executive Director David Kolata told Crain’s reporter Steve Daniels. “We haven’t seen any concessions offered. That’s a little bit unusual.”
In this age of merger mania, consumer advocates are always concerned that consolidation will lead to a decrease in customer service and an increase in rates. “We will be quick to point out any shortcomings and propose improvements to make this a better deal for Chicago-area consumers,” Kolata said in a CUB’s statement.
While we have to analyze the proposed acquisition carefully, our confidence isn’t boosted by the fact that Peoples Gas and North Shore are charging the highest gas rates in the state right now, as the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Plus, the Peoples and North Shore have gotten about $250 million in rate hikes since 2008–and they’re asking for another $136 million right now.
And Daniels reminds us all that just last year Peoples led the charge for a new state law to impose a surcharge on customers’ gas bills to more quickly be compensated for infrastructure improvement programs.
To put it simply: Give Chicago gas customers break! Recent deals involving Nicor and ComEd included benefits like a three-year rate freeze, even $100 million in rate rebates. How about making pro-consumer concessions part of the Integrys sale?
Rate relief, please!