GUEST COMMENTARY: Utility regulation is a hot topic this year

2013-02-03T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Utility regulation is a hot topic this yearBy Kerwin Olson nwitimes.com
February 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The fate of monthly utility bills and the future of Indiana energy policy will be a hot topic of discussion during the 2013 session of the Indiana General Assembly.

Once again, the proposed coal-to-gas plant to be built in Rockport by Indiana Gasification is the subject of legislation. Two companion bills, Senate Bill 510, authored by Sen. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown, and House Bill 1515, authored by Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, promise to protect consumers from what is certain to be excessive charges for the substitute natural gas to be produced by the proposed facility.

Captive Hoosier ratepayers should be protected from being gouged by an Enron-like scheme that promises hefty returns for a privately held, out-of-state hedge fund.

Conversely, Senate Bill 560, authored by Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Monticello, guarantees captive gas and electric ratepayers will face enormous bill increases as the legislation eliminates regulatory protections captive consumers are entitled to. SB 560 would shift almost all of the costs and risk of operating a monopoly utility company to captive ratepayers and away from voluntary investors.

Additionally, SB 560 would allow the monopoly utilities to raise rates virtually automatically and would further reduce regulatory oversight by placing unreasonable time restrictions on both the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and the Office of the Utility Consumer Counselor.

Should SB 560 become law, monopoly utility profits will become excessive as they will have little incentive to control costs.

Monthly electric bills have increased nearly 50 percent over the last decade, and the costs of living continue to soar, especially for essentials like food and health care. Meanwhile, the monopoly utility companies in Indiana are working hard to undermine regulatory oversight.

While everyone else is being forced to tighten their belts and the working class and vulnerable populations struggle to survive, the monopoly utilities parade around the halls of government with unfettered access working to increase their monopoly revenue and profits at the expense of the public.

It should be interesting to observe the now Republican-dominated Indiana General Assembly and a newly elected governor with no Statehouse experience navigate between the two paradigms. Will they allow the monopoly utilities with their deep pockets to control the agenda and the future of Indiana energy policy, or will they stand up for consumers, keep the utilities in check and protect the public interest?

We’ll learn the answer during what promises to be a long and contentious 2013 session of the Indiana General Assembly. Stay tuned.

Kerwin Olson is executive director of the Citizens Actions Coalition. The opinions are the writer's.

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