Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 15-year proposed deal with Commonwealth Edison was temporarily blocked Wednesday, a setback for the mayor for what she’s billed as the “strongest municipal utility franchise deal in the country.”
The delay comes amid concerns that such a monumental agreement should be decided after the upcoming municipal elections.
During the proposal’s introduction at City Council Wednesday, Ald. Andre Vasquez, 40th, sent it to the Rules Committee, where legislation sometimes languishes. Afterward, he likened the deal to the infamous 2008 parking meter plan passed under Mayor Richard M. Daley, who traded 75 years of city parking revenue to private investors for $1.15 billion.
“We’re in the middle of elections,” Vasquez told reporters afterward. “We could have a whole radically different Council, potentially a new mayor, and if they want to have any concerns or make any changes, they won’t be able to for three terms.”
The mayor and all 50 aldermanic seats are up for election Feb. 28, with an April 4 runoff for any seat where no candidate gets at least 50% of the vote.
Vasquez along with other progressive aldermen have called for a city takeover of ComEd, a feat that Lightfoot also explored but decided was fiscally unfeasible.
The Lightfoot administration developed two companion ComEd deals, including a 15-year franchise agreement for ComEd to continue providing electricity, with an option to extend it for another five years. The city would have the option to municipalize the system if it chooses after the first five years.
The other part of the proposed deal is an “energy and equity agreement” to advance the city’s climate action plan, with promised benefits ranging from solar panels for low-income people to more than 1,000 jobs for South and West Side residents. ComEd money supporting the projects would be controlled by a “third-party nonprofit board” consisting of five people appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council and two selected from ComEd.
During presentations to aldermen on Monday, Lightfoot officials indicated she hoped to pass the ordinance before the end of the term.
The pending deal represents a significant breakthrough between Lightfoot’s administration and the company since the U.S. attorney’s office announced in July 2020 that ComEd would be charged with a single count of bribery in a nearly decade-long scheme to funnel money and jobs to loyalists of then-House Speaker Michael Madigan, in hopes that he would back the company’s legislative agenda in Springfield.
The company — which most recently signed a franchise deal with the city in 1992 that expired in 2020 — agreed to pay a $200 million fine and federal authorities would drop the charge after three years if the utility fully cooperates in the investigation. Madigan, ComEd executives and others remain tangled in the probe and face trials in the coming year.
The Rules committee will need to vote on the legislation before it can return to its regular path of going through the Finance committee and then the full Council floor. Both committees are controlled by Lightfoot allies.
About $90 million of ComEd’s cash would go toward executing the climate action plan, with another $10 million into training the workforce, under the deal. Should the agreement be approved and eventually get extended another five years, an additional $20 million would go toward the fund.
In total, $520 million in mostly state and federal grants would go toward hundreds of community benefit projects for the climate action plan. That includes 4,000 solar roofs for low-income residents and one community site, thousands of residents receiving affordable broadband internet using ComEd fiber, a new West Side clean energy training hub with a $3.2 million expansion of a Chicago Public Schools program to train 10,000 residents in transitioning to clean energy, over 1,000 South and West side residents hired in new construction or customer service roles and over 100 energy “ambassadors” to help assist with bills.