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Negative Energy

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Last week, three aldermen sponsored resolutions calling for hearings to flay Commonwealth Edison over power outages caused by a snowstorm that included 50-mile-an-hour winds. Let's face it: the whole mess was what insurance companies refer to as "an act of God."

And as satisfying as it feels to blame Com Ed, it doesn't make sense to elevate our electric company to the status of a deity.

The aldermen's venom wasn't misplaced--just misdirected. There are so many good reasons to hate Com Ed, who needs to make them up?

Cartoonish mishaps are so common at Com Ed nuclear plants, they might as well make Homer Simpson their poster boy. Just last week, Com Ed got hit with a $330,000 fine from the NRC for its Quad Cities plant--operators had started a reactor before running a required test to make sure its cooling system worked. In January, Com Ed announced it would permanently close its pathetic Zion plant, which had been shuttered since February 1997, when an operator accidentally shut down a reactor, then tried to restart it without telling anyone.

Com Ed placed last among the nation's nine largest nuclear utilities in a report issued last November by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, an industry watchdog group.

Com Ed plants make up half of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's national watch list of lousy nuclear power plants--three out of six.

Since Com Ed has a total of six nuclear plants, one-half of all Com Ed plants are on the NRC's watch list. And in January the NRC added the Quad Cities plant to its declining performance list.

Com Ed's Dresden nuclear plant has been on the NRC watch list since 1992--a new record.

After Governor Edgar signed Illinois' new utility deregulation law last December, Com Ed's first move was to give a nice fat 15 percent discount to the 2,900 members of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. IRMA was the only business group that lobbied for the Com Ed-backed law, which contains a clause allowing Com Ed to conduct such "billing experiments." Ordinary nonlobbying customers won't get the 15 percent discount mandated by the law until August 1.

The deregulation law lets government agencies negotiate discounts with Com Ed by consolidating their electricity bills. But when Chicago, its public schools, the CTA, and the Park District banded together to consolidate their $120 million annual bill, Com Ed would only cough up a measly 5 percent discount.

Com Ed workers began destroying monk parakeet nests on Hyde Park utility poles last November, just because one pole transformer surrounded by a nest caught fire last June. As a letter writer noted in the Tribune, they waited until winter set in to destroy the poor birds' homes--poor, defenseless, pretty green birds.

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