Pritzker names new ICC chair

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker has named an attorney he recently appointed to the Illinois Commerce Commission as chairman of the agency.

Carrie Zalewski, who formerly sat on the Illinois Pollution Control Board, succeeds Brien Sheahan. Sheahan, an appointee of former Gov. Bruce Rauner, had run the ICC since 2015 and will stay on the commission for now. His term expires next year.

Under Sheahan, the commission was perceived as highly supportive of utilities and their requests. Most noteworthy was Sheahan’s light touch with Peoples Gas, the natural gas utility for the city of Chicago, which has relentlessly pursued a historically expensive pipe-replacement program at a cost that is rapidly driving heating bills up for Chicagoans.

Sheahan took over the commission just as a deal was pending to sell the Chicago-based parent of Peoples, whose administration of the massive infrastructure program was riddled at the time with conflicts of interest and poor management. Sheahan’s commission approved the deal in mid-2015 creating Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group, briefly halted the pipe-replacement program later that year and then allowed it to go forward at essentially the same pace and with few changes.

In addition, Sheahan’s commission, with no discussion from him or other commissioners, late last year agreed to a request by Commonwealth Edison to halt the sale of a municipally owned transmission system in the city of Rochelle to a large rival. That deal is still held up, with Rochelle officials furious at both Sheahan and ComEd.

Sheahan did take an interest in reforming the industry selling competitive electricity to households, which generally has employed at-best confusing marketing tactics to sell power to residents at higher prices than they’d get from ComEd. But the marketing rules his commission finally approved have done little to change the fundamentals of that highly questionable business.

Zalewski, who earned a B.S. in engineering in 2001 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and then a law degree from Chicago-Kent Law School, went on to serve as assistant chief counsel for the Illinois Department of Transportation. She was appointed to the Pollution Control Board in 2009.

She has no experience in the complex energy and utility industries other than the cases she handled on the board that involved power plants. But those who know her describe her as intelligent and a quick study.

“The transition to the ICC has been very natural for me based on my education and experience as a regulator, attorney and engineer,” she said in a release.

Among the major issues pending before her are a $230 million rate hike request by Nicor Gas, which serves 2 million customers in the suburbs.

In addition to Zalewski, Pritzker has appointed attorney Maria Bocanegra to the commission recently. Both are subject to confirmation by the Illinois Senate. In addition to Sheahan, three Rauner appointees continue to serve on the ICC.

 

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via Crain’s Chicago Business

April 17, 2019 at 07:13AM

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