Illinois lawmakers call for hearing on high heating bills

There are bi-partisan calls for public hearings on the giant increases in heating costs that are looming for Illinois residents.

Consumers this winter could see gas utility bills up to 50% higher than they were last winter.

Now, state lawmakers want to know why.

The top-ranking Republican on the Illinois Senate's energy committee has proposed public hearings to put gas utility executives on the hot seat.

"Why do the experts feel that the cost of natural gas is going to go through the roof?" said State Sen. Sue Rezin of Morris, Illinois. "And it's very difficult to be able to pay a 30 to 40 to 50 percent increase on your gas bill during the winter."

Even before those huge increases hit, already hundreds of thousands of local consumers had stopped paying gas utility bills.

A spokesman for Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas noted gas and oil prices are soaring all over the world.

Wednesday’s headline on a New York Times column: "A Scary Energy Winter Is Coming. Don’t Blame the Greens."

Illinois is requiring the eventual shutdown of all coal- and gas-fired power plants, but not yet.

"It’s not renewable energy or green energy that's causing this problem. It's a spike in gas demand," said Abe Scarr of Illinois PIRG.

Nicor Gas in the suburbs and Peoples Gas in Chicago are also under fire for multi-billion dollar, pipe replacement work. It's already added $156 a year to consumer bills in Chicago and is only one-third done.

Sen. Rezin wants that spending reined in.

"I know that the attorney general's office has concerns as well. And I know, as a state legislator, I’ve always had concerns regarding the increase that we've seen," she said.

A spokesman for Peoples Gas said the pipe replacement work is necessary for safety, adding that the utility complies with state law, making the public hearings all but certain.

State Senate President Don Harmon endorsed the idea Wednesday night.