Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has reached a 15-year-old deal with Commonwealth Edison that the city bills as the “strongest municipal utility franchise deal in the country,” but some aldermen are worried it would bind Chicagoans with the embattled electricity company for much too long and much too fast.
The Lightfoot administration developed two companion agreements that were presented to aldermen on Monday before they’ll be submitted for City Council approval, multiple sources said. One is 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 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.
The deal represents the first 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 agreed to pay a $200 million fine so federal authorities would drop the charge after three years, but Madigan, ComEd executives and others remain tangled in the probe and face trials in the coming year.
Lightfoot and City Council members had explored options for replacing ComEd — which most recently signed a franchise deal with the city in 1992 that expired in 2020 — but city officials said they haven’t fiscally prudent alternatives.
A city spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A presentation by Lightfoot officials billed the pair of agreements as the “strongest municipal utility franchise deal in the country” for its use of shareholder funds from ComEd regarding promoting clean energy and jobs training.
ComEd spokeswoman Shannon Breymaier said: “ComEd remains closely engaged with the City of Chicago to arrive at an agreement that will expand on our century-long partnership to support and spur a reliable and equitable transition to a clean energy future for all of Chicago’s communities.”
But Ald. Matt Martin, 47th, said he doesn’t understand why Lightfoot would rush through such a long-term deal when details of the alleged bribery scheme will likely come to light soon after. Madigan’s trial is set for next year, while ex-CEO Anne Pramaggiore is due to face trial in March.
“Why would we want to lock ourselves into 20 years when there’s something critical that is going to happen next year?” Martin asked.
Ald. Andre Vasquez, 40th, concurred, noting his fears that Lightfoot wants to jam this deal through City Council before the end of the term. He also worried that waiting five years to offer the option to municipalize the electricity system would actually remove the city’s leverage for that duration.
“If we have something in the legislation that blocks us from having that conversation for five years, I don’t think that’s in the best interest of our taxpayers or Chicagoans across the city,” Vasquez said.
On the overall length of the proposed deal, he added: “If you agree to a 15-year agreement, and let’s say you have a different Council and what could be a different mayor, if they wanted to make any changes, they’d have to wait three terms.” The mayor and all 50 ward seats are up for election Feb. 28, with early voting now underway.
The second proposed agreement outlines that the ComEd cash going toward a “climate action plan” would be controlled by a “third-party nonprofit board” consisting of five people appointed by the mayor and confirmed by City Council and two selected from ComEd. Current city employees would not be eligible.
Martin said that approach would strip City Council members of oversight.
“If we’re talking about money that the city needs to execute the city’s Climate Action Plan, those are funds that the city should have control over,” Martin said. “Instead, the decisions would be made by some unelected nonprofit. … Why are we getting tens of millions of dollars to a nonprofit that really is not accountable in the ways that folks are demanding right now? That to me is a very, very big red flag.”
In total, $520 million will go toward hundreds of community benefit projects for the climate action plan, according to the city’s presentation. 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.
Lastly, the deal would create a “coordination council” to “streamline” operations across all city agencies involved.
Ald. Daniel La Spata, 1st, too raised concerns after a deal that he noted only came about “after two years of silence” following the explosive bribery allegations.
“I would say the more I dig into the details of this agreement, the more questionable it is,” La Spata wrote in a text. “We can’t afford to rush this over the next three months.”