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Frontlines

Fortnightly Magazine - May 15 1997

says the complaint. It asks the Illinois commission to assess the costs that Com Ed would incur to allow the cogen plant to interconnect with all the utility's distribution facilities within the Sears Tower. The complaint then asks the Illinois regulators to compel access to the lines or direct Com Ed to sell the risers and other distribution assets to the Sears leasing agent at their fully depreciated cost.

(But as I read it, I found the 16-page complaint confused and misinformed. It cites a duty for utilities "to interconnect" with cogeneration facilities. Surely that rule concerns transmission line connections to allow generating resources to operate in parallel--not retail access to distribution lines. The complaint would interpret PURPA's purchase obligation as assuring QFs the right to sell power directly to the utility's retail customers. That's obviously wrong."

Nevertheless, QST is no neophyte. Self-styled as both a marketer and an energy services company, QST fancies itself a fierce competitor.

"We're broader than the average bear," says Christine Wood, QST's director of marketing and advertising. "We're not very utility-like. We create a customer-focused products."

Not very utility-like? In fact, QST is an affiliate of Central Illinois Light Co., the utility that introduced what is believed to be the nation's first pilot program for retail choice in electricity. On May 1, three days after QST filed its complaint, CILCO came out with a press release touting its average residential rate of 7.1 cents per kilowatt-hour as "60 percent less than Com Ed." In the same press release it notes that legislation was pending in Illinois to allow competition. It describes Com Ed and Illinois Power as opposing retail choice in electric power until the year 2005, and advised consumers to "contact their state representatives and tell them to support big price cuts next year and the opportunity to choose your electric supplier sooner rather than later."

Com Ed, for its part, calls the case a media stunt: "Nothing more than another step in the bargaining process," says William H. Downey, v.p. of commercial operations.

Com Ed spokesman Jeff Madsen points out that state and federal laws grant access to utility transmission lines for cogeneration facilities, but don't force utilities to open distribution lines to let cogenerators siphon off retail customers. He explains that Com Ed would willingly provide backup power to the Sears Tower to operate the building, but not for resale to tenants through Com Ed's own lines.

"We're not opposed to a cogen plant for the Sears tower facility (elevators, heating system, etc.). The problems is with serving the tenants. We're refusing to sell the distribution line or to give access to the line," says Madsen.

"CILCO would say we're being discriminatory because we've allowed access to our distribution lines in 45 other cases. But in each of those case, they were schools, hospitals, or small factories. The power supplied only the facility itself [that owned the on-site generation]. It didn't serve other individually metered Com Ed customers at the site."

What about the Sears tenants? Com Ed claims that Salomon Brothers and