Some businesses revolt over pulling plug on energy efficiency

2014-03-27T14:30:00Z 2014-04-04T21:38:47Z Some businesses revolt over pulling plug on energy efficiencyKeith Benman, (219) 933-3326

A General Assembly bill pulling the plug on Indiana's energy efficiency programs is splitting the state's business community, handing Gov. Mike Pence one of his toughest decisions yet when it comes to signing the bill.

A long list of companies, some of them among Indiana's most prominent employers, have written to Pence expressing opposition to the bill.

"Energy efficiency programs in Indiana create jobs," the 11 businesses stated in their joint letter. "Indiana is home to businesses who manufacture energy-efficient equipment such as chillers, air-conditioners and heaters, and to companies that make industrial facilities more efficient."

Among those signing were General Electric, Ingersoll Rand, Johnson Controls, Siemens, Honeywell, and United Technologies. The 11 companies stated they represent a total of 10,000 manufacturing and efficiency jobs in Indiana.

Many of the energy efficiency programs ended by the bill are run by Energizing Indiana, which is a cooperative effort between the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, utilities and consumer groups. Energizing Indiana provides home energy audits, weatherization and rebates to industrial and commercial facilities for installing energy-efficient equipment.

In addition, the bill would end many energy efficiency programs run by utilities. NIPSCO's programs include rebates on energy-saving appliances, appliance recycling and home weatherization.

Most of the energy efficiency programs are paid for by surcharges on customer bills.

The grassroots consumer group Citizens Action Coalition was not surprised when major corporations stepped up to oppose the bill and urge Pence to veto it, coalition Executive Director Kerwin Olson said.

"The reality is these energy efficiency programs not only deliver significant savings to consumers, but they also have a significant impact on our economy, creating thousands of jobs in Indiana," Olson said.

Pence has until the end of Thursday to either sign or veto the bill. He also could choose not to sign it, in which case it would also become law. As of Wednesday afternoon, the bill was not included in Pence's bill-signing itinerary, which is bringing him to Northwest Indiana and other locales.

The bill was originally introduced in the Senate with strong support from the Indiana Manufacturers Association, which convinced legislators the cost for some of their members far outweighed the benefits.

As originally passed by the Senate, the bill would have allowed large electric customers to opt out of the energy efficiency programs, and the bill surcharges that pay for them. However, when the bill went on to the House it was amended to end energy efficiency programs.

After studying the bill, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission determined utilities will have to come before the commission to file new requests if they want to continue any of their programs beyond the end of the year, said IURC spokeswoman Danielle McGrath. Utilities also could ask to add new ones.

The Indiana Energy Association, which represents the state's utilities, still considers the bill as only "pausing" any efficiency efforts in Indiana, not killing them as some allege, said Indiana Energy Association President Ed Simcox.

"Everyone supports energy efficiency, but their concern is what they perceive to be enormous costs spread across all rate payers and the benefits accruing to only a small percentage of the whole," Simcox said.

If Pence signs the bill, NIPSCO plans to file a request during the summer to continue offering energy efficiency programs, NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer said. The request will be subject to the usual IURC process, with testimony taken from all interested parties.

That means there could be a gap between the law's stipulation to end the programs and the IURC's approval of any new set of programs.

No matter what takes place, current programs such as air-conditioner cycling and appliance recycling will continue until year end, Meyer said.

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