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Power costs will have everyday impact

Power costs will have everyday impact

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BLOOMINGTON - The cost of many goods and services could jump if the electric rate increases Jan. 1. Like homeowners, businesses will have to recoup the added cost of utility bills somewhere.

"That's a direct assault on whatever profit there may be … One possibility is to raise prices," said Harry Fuller, who owns The Groove Café, NV Ultralounge and Emack & Bolio's Ice Cream in Normal.

"The more unpleasant of (expense) reductions would be in staffing, and that's not always possible with the customer service you're trying to deliver," added Fuller, who pays around $2,500 to power the three businesses each month.

Illinois residents, meanwhile, wonder how they'll afford to pay 42 percent to 55 percent more for power if the state fails to extend the electric rate freeze set to expire Jan. 1.

Tom Vlahovich of Bloomington, for example, can't boost his income. Between a full-time job at Illinois State University and a part-time job at his church, he already works about 65 hours a week.

"Oh my, that would be devastating," he said of the potential rise in his power bill. "I don't know what we'd do, but we'd have to do something."

Mary Dortch of Bloomington doesn't know what else to cut out of her budget either.

"My last bill was about $70. If my light bill goes up to $100, I'm not going to be able to pay $100," said Dortch, an employee at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in Bloomington. "I'll have to pay just enough to keep the lights on."

That means she'll pay interest and late charges each month she can't afford the total amount due.

But in the political arena, it's her word against the word of utility companies, which say they'll face mass layoffs and possibly bankruptcy if the state doesn't allow them to raise rates.

A legislative plan to freeze residential electric rates for three years failed Tuesday, but lawmakers may reconsider the proposal in January when it needs fewer votes to pass.

Or, the governor could convene a special session to handle the matter before a decade-long rate freeze expires on Jan. 1. Handlers for Gov. Rod Blagojevich haven't given indication on whether he would follow through on such threats to force a vote.

Ron and Suzanne Sherman of Normal fear Illinois will face energy blackouts like California if the state extends the freeze. They want companies to phase in the increase over a period of several years, an idea floated in the statehouse by leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

And if utility companies get the increase, Ron Sherman expects them to use some of the money for stronger infrastructure to prevent blackouts.

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