SB 1665/HB 2414 WOULD SLAM ILLINOIS CONSUMERS WITH A DECADE OF YEARLY, AUTOMATIC RATE HIKES TOTALING UP TO $3 BILLIONCHICAGO, March 26, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Gas utilities are pushing legislation that would cripple consumer protections and hit customers with the equivalent of a 10-year "natural gas tax" of up to $3 billion, AARP Illinois and the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) warned Tuesday as they kicked off a statewide campaign against Senate Bill 1665/House Bill 2414. Peoples Gas, North Shore Gas, and Ameren—whose parent companies made $840 million in profits in 2012— are pushing the General Assembly to pass the bill, which would set rates by formula and open the door for a decade of yearly, automatic rate hikes. However, CUB and AARP, as part of a consumer coalition called ROAR—Ratepayers Opposed to Automatic Rate Increases, urged people to visit www.StopIllinoisRateHikes.com. There, consumers can find easy ways to contact state legislators and ask them to oppose the bill. "This legislation is merely an attempt to skirt consumer protections against unfair increases and hit Illinois consumers with the equivalent of a 'gas tax' of up to $3 billion," CUB Executive Director David Kolata said. "The current regulatory system allows utilities to get the rate hikes they need—but first they have to prove they actually need them." "Higher natural gas rates will significantly hurt low-income families who live paycheck to paycheck, individuals who have lost their jobs, and older residents living on fixed incomes, all of whom rely on utilities for their well-being and health," said AARP Illinois State Director Bob Gallo. "As electric, water and telephone companies have joined natural gas providers with legislation of their own, we urge consumers to call our Affordable Utilities Hotline (1-800-719-3020) to get connected to their legislators and urge them to oppose these bills." Currently, gas utilities have to prove they need a rate increase in 11-month cases before the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC). This bill would essentially leapfrog that process, opening the door for automatic rate hikes that guarantee utilities a generous Return on Equity (ROE), or profit rate for shareholders.