Illinois has enjoyed a ten year rate freeze on electricity rates that have kept consumer’s electrical bills low. That bill expires at the end of this year leaving Illinois residents looking at upwards of a 55% rate hike. As expected, legislators are looking to stop the rate hike because short-sighted pandering is what politicians do best. This is the absolute worst thing to do for Illinois and will lead to a dark future for our children.

The New York Times recently ran an article discussing a report from the commission set up to investigate the causes of the massive Ohio power outage in 2003. The report says bleakly that the United States is not building enough power plants to keep up with demand, that consumers waste a great deal of energy and have no incentive to reduce their demand on the grid, and that the grid’s general infrastructure is so old and aging that it’s susceptible to massive outages.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. By artificially capping prices, costs have to be cut somewhere to make up for it. For the power grid, this means less money for research and development. Less new construction, less new technology to increase efficiency, less redundancy, and so on.

There is one idea that needs to be put to a violent death right now; that energy company executives should cut their pay to pay for new power stations. Everyone who thinks this, consider this. That national deficit is about a few trillion dollars and it should be paid off. Will you take a 10% pay cut to help pay this debt off? Didn’t think so.

Another feature of letting market prices take effect in Illinois is that it will give consumers the full incentive needed to curtail and conserve their energy usage. The power companies have said that they will give near-time energy pricing data so that they can adjust their power usage by time. This is one of the biggest suggestions in the study cited above.

By artificially keeping prices low, consumers have lost the incentive to conserve. By artificially keeping prices low, energy companies do not have the resources to invest properly to maintain and improve the energy grid. The status quo will lead to more and more failures like we saw in 2003.

Rate freezes are good politics, if pandering is your thing. However, in reality they never work quite as advertised. It’s time to let the rate caps expire before it is too late… and too dark.

John Bambenek is the Assistant Politics Editor for Blogcritics and is an academic professional for the University of Illinois. He is a freelance columnist who blogs at Part-Time Pundit and the executive director of The Tumaini Foundation which helps AIDS orphans in Tanzania with education. He is the current owner of BlogSoldiers, a blog-only traffic exchange.

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