Public Utilities Law Public utilities law includes the state and federal regulation of the delivery of gas, water, electricity, and telecommunication services. Public utilities law is mostly based on state law, although some federal regulations is involved.
ICC. The Illinois Commerce Commission is responsible under Illinois law for ensuring the citizens of Illinois safe, efficient, reliable, and uninterrupted utility service at reasonable prices, while providing utility companies with the opportunity to earn a reasonable profit. In today's utility environment, the ICC also recommends new ways to deal with a changing marketplace, particularly in the telecommunications and electric sectors, where competition is reshaping the industries.
Utility regulation. The Illinois laws that regulate a person's eligibility for utility services and when the utility can discontinue services does not apply to municipal corporations, which means that the rules don't apply to water and sewer services.
Utilities are permitted to deny service to anyone who has an unpaid bill for services previously rendered. The utility may, at its option, choose to provide service if the applicant pays the past due bill and/or provides a deposit. Utilities may require a deposit after service has been provided if the customer has four late payments within a 12-month period (but only within the first 24 months of service) or if the customer's wires have been tampered with to the customer's benefit. The deposit must be returned with interest after 12 months without four late payments.
A utility may disconnect service when a customer fails to pay a past due bill, fails to pay a deposit, or refuses to give the utility access to its meter after a written request. The utility must give the customer written notice of the shutoff, which lapses after 40 days if not acted upon. The utility must also attempt to contact the customer at the time the service is actually cut off. The shutoff cannot occur after 2 pm or on a weekend or holiday, unless the utility can reconnect services on the same day (for a fee).
Cold weather. Illinois has a policy that no one can be denied heat in the cold weather because they can't afford it. Thus, the heat provider, whether gas or electric, cannot shut off the heat on any day in which the National Weather Service forecasts that the temperature will be 32 degrees or below. The same rule applies for days before a weekend or holiday in which the forecast is for temperatures of 32 degrees or below over the weekend or holiday.
Furthermore, heat cannot be turned off on any day between November 1 and March 31 unless the utility has offered the customer a deferred payment plan, notified the customer of financial resources that may be available, and given the customer at least six working days after the shutoff notice to pay the overdue amount.
Illness. Shut off is prohibited for 60 days where it would aggravate a serious illness of someone living at the residence. A registered physician must certify the illness.
Disputed bills. If a customer disputes a bill, the customer must be told that they are entitled to a review of their bill from the Consumer Assistance Section of the Illinois Commerce Commission. The utility is prohibited from shutting off services of someone who disputes a bill as long as the customer pays the disputed bill and enters into good-faith negotiations with the utility.
ICC complaints. Dissatisfied customers should complain to the Consumer Assistance Section of the Illinois Commerce Commission. Those unhappy with the Consumer Assistance Section's decision have the right to file a formal complaint to the ICC.
Federal regulation. Although utilities regulation is mostly a state and local matter, the federal government regulates utilities to the extent that interstate transactions are involved. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is an independent regulatory agency within the Department of Energy that regulates the transmission and sale of natural gas for resale in interstate commerce, regulates the transmission of oil by pipeline in interstate commerce, regulates the transmission and wholesale sales of electricity in interstate commerce, and oversees environmental matters related to natural gas, oil, electricity, and hydroelectric projects.
Thus, for example, FERC was involved in investigating the California energy of 2001 crisis because the situation involved the selling of electricity reserves across state lines. The crisis provides a good example of the challenges facing FERC. On the one hand, it wants to promote competition and give consumers more choices, which theoretically will drive down prices. On the other hand, in promoting competition, it cannot abandon its role as industry overseer.