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Condo owners promised so relief on their electric bills

Submitted  on Fri, 04/27/2007 – 01:06.

By Paige Gray

Commonwealth Edison heard the complaints of Chicago condominium association leaders upset about their skyrocketing electric bills. The utility company has announced it’s working to ease some of the recent rate shock experienced by condo owners.

Condo owners met earlier this month at the James R. Thompson Center with ComEd representatives and state legislators, who held a hearing of the House Electric Utility Oversight Committee. Condo owners attended to voice their displeasure with the reclassification of condominiums “common areas” from residential to commercial spaces, causing condo bills to increase even more than expected.

George Panagakis, treasurer of the 2333 N. Geneva Terrace Condominium Association, spoke on behalf of the Association of Condominium, Townhouse and Homeowners Associations.

“I am sincerely happy to learn that ComEd recognizes that reclassification of the common areas in the all-electric condo associations severely impacts our budgets and that ComEd is taking steps to mitigate the financial impact on these customers,” Panagakis said.

During the committee hearing, ComEd President J. Barry Mitchell announced intentions to assist the condominium associations.

“After hearing concerns from our customers and re-examining the issue, we considered ways to ease the transition to new rates for these electric space-heating common areas of condominium and apartment buildings,” Mitchell said.

“We are continuing to work with the Illinois Senate about the mechanics of implementing the program and the timing of the program.”

Home and business owners throughout the Chicago area have been upset about their higher electric bills. Consumers have seen a big increase in their bills since Jan. 1, 2007, when a nine-year rate freeze ended.

Condominium associations have been hit even harder because of the reclassification of common areas, such as lobbies, laundry rooms, elevators and hallways, from lower residential rates to higher commercial prices.

“There’s a part of this puzzle we all know,” said Enrique Perez, president of the Transportation Building Condominium Association in the South Loop.  “We knew rates we going to go up.  We didn’t know that the [Illinois Commerce Commission] approved a reclassification of the condo common space to a commercial rate.”

Michael Munson, an attorney for Metropolitan Energy who consults with the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago, agreed that the electric rate changes were not handled properly.

“Such reclassification is not fair,” Munson said. “In addition to this, the increases in electric rates hit the electric-heated buildings significantly more than the increases affected gas-heated buildings.”

ComEd maintains it appropriately informed customers of the rate shift for condo’s common areas.

“We estimate that the average bill for a separately metered common area of multi-unit residential buildings will increase,” the company stated in a letter it said was mailed to condo associations.

But Perez said many people, including building representatives, did not know about the change, He hopes that three crucial messages were sent to lawmakers and ComEd.

“First, there needs to be an understanding that common areas are residential and not commercial spaces,” Perez said. “Second, concrete steps need to be made to reverse the reclassification.  Lastly, there needs to be intense focus between the House and the Senate to work out the rate hike facing the general public, regardless of the condo reclassification.”

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