State hearings and transparency needed on Nicor gas cost hikes
Nicor has dramatically increased the cost of its heating gas without anyone holding it accountable. The State Legislature needs to hold hearings on the increases and they also need to strengthen the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) funding it from state taxes the way the state funds the Illinois Commerce Commissioner (ICC) which approves Nicor’s price gouging. We need real transparency. Right now taxpayers and consumers are being pushed to the curb
By Ray Hanania
Consumers are reeling over massive increases in Nicor Gas costs, and they can’t get answers because the system is rigged against them.
Nicor Gas is owned by a massive conglomerate called Southern Gas, which has four gas subsidiaries serving 4.2 million customers. Nicor is the largest serving 2.2 million consumers in the northern third of the state, excluding Chicago.
Nicor is regulated by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), which is funded through a portion of the taxes on Nicor’s bills to consumers.
Executives at both Southern Gas and Nicor Gas get huge salaries and benefits in the millions, while consumers are left struggling to pay their bills. Nicor costs have more than doubled in the past few years with the biggest hikes coming this Winter.
Nicor relies on the ICC to get what it wants. ICC officers get generous salaries. The ICC chairman makes about $139,572 a year. Commissioners are paid $121,889.
The legislature, whose members get donations from the wealthy “individuals” at Southern Gas and Nicor Gas, control it all.
Nicor Gas cost increases are the most dramatic consumers have seen in monthly bills. A typical Suburban home in northern Illinois for January paid $118 in 2018; $127 in 2019; $104 in 2020; $112 in 2021; $181 in 2022; and $229 in 2023.
That’s because ICC has granted massive hike requests made by Nicor Gas which has asked for $208 million in 2017, $230 million in 2018, and $293 million in 2021. In 2021, CUB approved a $240 million cost hike.
During that same period, the cost of Nicor Gas more than doubled, shocking consumers but doing little to shock Illinois officials.
The agency tasked with protecting consumer rights is the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) which is funded by “donations.” But the CUB operates in poverty, funded by “donations.” Vastly underfunded compared to the giant it monitors.
How can CUB fight Southern Gas, Nicor Gas or the taxpayer-funded ICC?
The biggest problem is there is absolutely no transparency in how Nicor Gas and Southern Gas operate. Executive salaries, which are estimated in the tens of millions, are hidden from public view. How much does Nicor CEO Wendell Dallas get? Good luck searching for that.
Not even CUB can easily find those numbers. I asked.
The State should require that they be published by the companies and easily found!
In 2021, Southern’s president received more than $19 million. The other four CEOs earned more than $4.5 million each in salaries.
What we do know about salaries at Nicor Gas is a previous CEO, Russ Strobel, walked away with more than $23.8 million when he left in 2010, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Their salaries will rise while yours will continue to fall in value because of lack of wage hikes and the steady rise of inflation.
The system is rigged against consumers.
Wealthy employees at Southern Gas and its Nicor subsidiary donate huge amounts to our elected officials. Who do you think legislators listen too? You and CUB? Or the people pumping money into their campaign coffers?
What is Gov. J.B. Pritzker, whose billions make him insensitive to rising consumer costs or the cold temperatures, doing about it? Nothing. Why should he? He can set the temperature in his mansions to 80 degrees if he wants while most Nicor Gas customers are told to lower their heating settings to reduce costs. Landlords need only set their thermostats to 68 during the day and 66 at night.
No one is listening to the shivers and rattling teeth of consumers as they write their monthly payment checks to Nicor. Especially abandoned are the seniors who need the most attention and support.
The system in Illinois must change and focus on the consumers who are paying the money that Southern Gas, Nicor and the ICC use to pad their 401 Ks and retirement funds.
There must be more transparency. Information on salaries should be easy, not difficult, to find. Utility companies like Nicor should be forced to publish them every year on their websites.
CUB needs to be funded by the state and strengthened. In fact, make Nicor pay their costs and boost up their salaries.
Nicor Gas billing increases from this past Fall and Winter need to be rolled back.
And, the legislature needs to hold public hearings to pull the veil off of this massive secret process that is torturing everyday consumers who are struggling to cope with rising costs coming from every direction.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. A political analyst and CEO of Urban Strategies Group, Hanania’s opinion columns on mainstream issues are published in the Southwest News Newspaper Group in the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers. His Middle East columns are published in the Arab News. For more information on Ray Hanania visit www.Hanania.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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