Peoples Gas has been working for years to replace Chicago’s aging gas pipes in a project called the System Modernization Program. The cost of this project has exploded over the years, which will mean higher gas bills for Chicago residents. Peoples Gas currently is running a proposal through the Illinois Commerce Commission, a body that regulates utilities, that would give a green light for the project to continue as-is, without any attempt to rein in the cost to Peoples Gas customers. Over the next 20 years, this will double a family’s gas bill.
In a hearing today about the proposal, Jody Blaylock with Heartland Alliance and the Illinois Asset Building Group delivered comments to the Illinois Commerce Commission about the devastating impact higher gas bills would have on lower-income families:
Good morning, commissioners. Thank you for the opportunity to comment today on the proposed order for the Peoples Gas System Modernization Program, which would allow Peoples Gas to continue as-is with its multi-billion dollar project to replace Chicago’s gas pipes, at the expense of Chicago’s residents.
My name is Jody Blaylock, and I lead Heartland Alliance’s Financial Empowerment policy work. Heartland Alliance is an anti-poverty and human rights organization that provides healthcare, housing, safety, and support services while advancing polices that end poverty and promote equity.
I am also a Chicago resident and Peoples Gas customer.
This Peoples Gas program will double a family’s gas bill over the next 20 years. This rate increase will disproportionally impact people experiencing poverty and people of color. Our 2017 report on poverty in Illinois revealed that nearly half of Chicagoans are considered low-income or living in poverty, and people of color and children have the highest rates of poverty in Illinois. The rate increase will take an outsized portion of a family’s income just to pay for heat, one of the most basic human needs, and make it much more difficult to make ends meet every month.
When families struggle to afford their gas bills, it directly puts their health and wellbeing at risk. A 2011 study from the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association found that 23% of LIHEAP recipients kept their homes at unsafe or unhealthy temperatures in the past year due to not having enough money for the energy bills. Under the Proposed Order, we are likely to see more Chicago families adopt strategies like these – not turning on their heat, or keeping their home at unsafe temperatures – in an attempt to manage their expensive gas bills.
I urge the Commission to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all Chicago families by rejecting the Proposed Order, slowing down the System Modernization Program, and better prioritizing the most at-risk pipes.
We will continue to work with our partners to fight for affordable utilities, so that all families can meet their most basic needs for water, heat, and electricity.