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In Com Ed’s “24,” Eric Duray No “Jack Bauer” (Updated 06.24.11)

06.23.11

In a comment to Tuesday’s post submitted yesterday evening, Mr./Ms. “Dark on Belle Plaine” wrote:

This is all so nice and I hate to change the topic, but now that my power is back on I turned on my computer and watched the [Monday night City Council] meeting.  I get to the part where the Com-Ed mouthpiece gives a report which outlines all the “improvements” they have done and [how] “short” the repair times are.  I kid you not.  If you haven’t watched it you should.  Then he asks if there are any questions?  Guess what?  Not one.  They all sit there.  All seven of them and the Mayor just sit there.  No one asks what specific improvements have occurred since the last power outage or the one before that or the one before that.  They should have asked because evidenced by what took place over the last twenty-four hours is clear evidence it was not enough.

The semi-Faulknerian length of that paragraph notwithstanding, Mr./Ms. DOBP makes a good point, especially in light of at least 80% of Park Ridge losing electrical power barely 24 hours after Monday night’s public relations presentation by Park Ridge’s very own ComEd rep/troubleshooter, Eric Duray – with 50% of Park Ridge still out of power as of 7:00 a.m. today (06/23/11).

On June 30, 2008, we published a post titled “A Powerless Mayor” in which we wrote:

After large portions of Park Ridge lost power for as much as four days last August, [then-mayor Howard] Frimark made a grand gesture of bringing in ComEd public relations people to explain why we continue to have regular outages and what it was doing to alleviate them.  The report from residents who attended those meetings: “Same stuff, different day.”

Three years later, we have to ask if anything has changed…besides the names of the mayor and six of the seven aldermen, that is?

Mr./Ms. DOBP is spot-on with the observation about how the mayor and the Council – along with City Mgr. Jim Hock, all the other City officials arrayed around The Horseshoe, and a gallery chock-full of residents – sat silent and un-questioning during what turned into a canned public relations pitch for the newest piece of pro-ComEd legislation working its way through a usually-complicit state legislature in Springfield: the “Smart Grid” and “Smart Meters,” which appear designed primarily to ensure a steady stream of ComEd profits for the next decade or so.

According to Duray, the “average” Park Ridge customer had only 1.27 power interruptions during 2010, making last year our most reliable for electrical power since 2006.  He attributed that result to ComEd’s having invested approximately $570,000 in Park Ridge-related capital projects during the past three years (2008-10) – although he didn’t say, and nobody asked, how that $570,000 compares to the total revenue Park Ridge users generated for ComEd during those same three years.

We’re guessing the fraction would be tiny.

Maybe the silence from our public officials Monday night was from the shock of hearing such palaver spewed so directly and earnestly by Duray.  Watch the new WOW-broadcast meeting video on the City’s website and you’ll hear a spiel as good as any delivered by those legendary patent medicine peddlers from the backs of horse-drawn wagons in the Old West: we half-expected Mr. Duray to promise that the new Smart Grid would even cure the croup, lumbago and the grip!

But, unfortunately, Duray has never given us any reason to think that he might be able to solve any of Park Ridge’s electric power problems – not in 24 hours or even 24 months.

Back in June 2008, we suggested then-mayor Frimark and that Council explore the City’s options in dealing with ComEd, including the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of a lawsuit such as several other communities had filed against ComEd for its failure to adequately maintain and improve its power grid to provide more reliable power.  As best as we can tell, that crew did absolutely nothing.

In December 2009, Mayor Schmidt, in response to another Duray dog-and-pony show, challenged ComEd to invest more that the $470,000 in capital improvements Duray was then reporting in order to make electrical power in Park Ridge more reliable: “It would be fair and wise for you to put more money into Park Ridge than the amount of money you have so far.”  But another 18 months have gone by, and we aren’t aware of the City’s getting anything more out of ComEd than another $100,000 of purported but unspecified capital improvements.

We’re not advocating a lawsuit as the only way to get ComEd to provide us with dependable power – at least not until we can get a better sense of what the costs and likelihood of success will be.

In 2005 the City of Darien filed suit against ComEd after a substation fire left 12,000 residents without power for 2-3 days.  ComEd conceded that Darien’s outages were twice those of other areas, and that case was settled by bringing in a consultant who identified the various infrastructure problems which ComEd worked to fix.  According to Duray, however, Park Ridge’s outages last year were slightly better than ComEd’s system-wide average.

The Village of Deerfield has been involved in a suit with ComEd since April 2008, alleging 82,347 individual customer power outages during 1,377 separate electric failures since 2000 related to four circuits which ComEd admitted were among the 1% worst performing circuits in the entire ComEd system.  

That case already has cost Deerfield in excess of $250,000, and that was  before its recent hiring of utility lawyers from a national law firm (DLA Piper) to handle some elements of the case that may now need to proceed before the Illinois Commerce Commission (“ICC”) – according to Pages 15-19 of last Thursday’s (June 16) Illinois Supreme Court decision, where the Court held that complaints about ComEd’s infrastructure and services that seek relief for systemic defects in the provision or remediation of services when a power outage occurs, constitute claims for “reparations” that must be heard by the ICC.

So if litigation isn’t the way to go, what is?

Some residents have mentioned burying the power lines as is done in most newer areas, although that sounds like a pretty darn expensive retrofitting project that ComEd is unlikely to undertake solely on its own dime.  Nevertheless, the City should look into it.  It should also put the arm on Park Ridge resident and state Sen. Dan Kotowski, and Rep. Rosemary Mulligan – both of whom have either been MIA or simply ineffective in helping with our flooding and our power problems up to now – to go to bat for us.

Meanwhile, if you want to share your thoughts about ComEd’s performance with Mr. Duray, we understand that his e-mail address is eric.duray@ComEd.com.  If you do so, we suggest that you copy the mayor, the city manager, and at least your own alderman (using the e-mail addresses for them on the City’s website); and Sen. Kotowski (dan@kotowski4senate.com) and Rep. Mulligan (repmulligan@usa.net).

Oh, yeah…and don’t forget to copy us here at ContactUs@PublicWatchdog.org.

UPDATE (06.24.11): In responding to one of the comments to this post, we re-visited the City’s website and discovered that while a “ComEd – Annual Report and Presentation” item was stuck in the Mayor’s report section of the agenda – after 3 proclamations  and one presentation – there were no relevant ComEd materials in the Council “packet”; and we understand that the only ComEd materials the Mayor and the aldermen received were at their desks when they arrived Monday night.

That raises the question of whether ComEd was trying to snooker the City with an eleventh-hour handout so that nobody would have time to prepare for Mr. Duray’s medicine show. 

Consequently, we would hope that the City invites Mr. Duray back real soon – so that he can explain to a better-prepared Council and citizenry why that whopping $570,000 3-year capital improvement effort didn’t do more to protect 80% of Park Ridge from the next evening’s power outage.

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