Evanston City Council members are not planning to sign an extension of their contract with Commonwealth Edison when it comes up for renewal next month.

Aldermen voted Monday, Aug. 10, not to extend the agreement when it expires on Sept. 12. They were acting on the advice of the City’s ComEd Franchise Negotiation Committee members and staff, who argued the City would benefit from learning the impact of an investigation into the utility’s activities.

“ComEd is currently being investigated for bribery charges that influenced energy legislation in the State of Illinois that could have impacted Evanston ratepayers,” said Kumar Jensen, the City’s Chief Sustainability & Resilience Officer, in a memo to aldermen at the Aug. 10 City Council meeting. “The City would benefit from additional time to better understand the impacts of the ComEd bribery charges prior to signing any new agreement with ComEd. Additional time will allow the Negotiation Committee and City staff to work with ComEd to develop an agreement that more fully aligns with the City’s goals.”

In addition, Mr. Jensen noted concerns about the changing environment, and an agreement, for instance, that would address the increase in violent weather events Evanston and other communities are seeing more often.

He said that the franchise agreements historically have been focused on infrastructure and finances. He suggested that the City might look for the next agreement to address additional challenges, such as severe weather events “and the impact that we’re likely to see on an increasing basis.” 

“And so in order to address these challenges we really need partners that are aligned with our goals,” he said, “and are able to effectively support the City in responding to these.”

 Mr. Jensen  told aldermen there is no “practical harm,” going without a franchise, noting ComEd is required to provide the same level of service when an active agreement is not in effect.

In addition, the City Council had a separate item at its Aug. 10 meeting, calling for approval of an Infrastructure Maintenance Fee (IMF).

The fee would replace the benefit of free electric service the City receives from ComEd when a franchise agreement is in force. Under the change, the City would receive a monthly cash payment from ComEd, Mr. Jensen said.

“And one of the, one of the many benefits of that transition is that it allows the City to go out and purchase electricity for all of those facilities at a much more competitive rate than we would receive from Com Ed. And so we are actually anticipating that the City will see a bump in revenue to the tune of between [$70,000] and $90,000 moving into 2021,” he said.

“While the City of Evanston’s consent agenda allows the city’s franchise agreement with ComEd to expire on Sept. 12, ComEd will continue to provide safe and reliable electric service to Evanston and its residents, Paul Elsberg, ComEd’s Vice President of Communications, told the RoundTable on Aug. 12 .

“ComEd shares many of the city’s priorities related to infrastructure, community development, equity and climate resilience, and consistent with the city’s consent agenda, stands ready to continue negotiations toward an agreement that builds on the constructive relationship we’ve established and supports our mutual goals.” Mr. Elsberg added that ComEd serves many communities in northern Illinois without a franchise agreement.

In the past, Evanston has taken its own course in negotiations with the utility, going with short extensions, sometimes as short as a few months.

Beyond rates, an agreement can include a service schedule for the utility to perform to the City’s system and include disclosure about feeder lines at close to capacity.

In 1999, the City of Evanston was one of the few communities in the area not to sign a long-term “model agreement” extension with ComEd when the franchise was set to expire, with officials saying it failed to provide safeguards.

The current five-year agreement is set to expire in September, Mr. Jensen said.


Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.