GUEST COMMENTARY: Voicing opposition to Indiana Senate Bill 560

2013-03-14T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Voicing opposition to Indiana Senate Bill 560By Thomas McDermott Jr. nwitimes.com
March 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

On behalf of the more than 80,000 Hammond residents and businesses whose households are almost all NIPSCO ratepayers, I would like to voice my opposition to Indiana Senate Bill 560. It unfairly shifts the risk and burden of capital investment onto ratepayers instead of on monopoly utilities and their shareholders where it belongs.

In February, NISource CEO Robert Skaggs reported record earnings for his utility holding company for 2012. In that same press release, Skaggs predicted his investors could look forward to similar numbers in 2013. Overall, it was a very upbeat press release and Wall Street investors ate it up, sending NiSource shares up 5 percent shortly after Skaggs' announcement.

At about the same time this press release was issued, the Indiana Senate overwhelmingly passed SB 560. These two seemingly independent events are actually intertwined — they benefit NIPSCO and at the same time are bad news for Indiana consumers and ratepayers.

The problem is, SB560 is a sweetheart deal for utility monopolies at the expense of the ratepayer. It eliminates regulatory protections to which captive ratepayers are entitled, making it much too easy for state-sanctioned monopolies, like NIPSCO, to arbitrarily raise utility rates for our constituents.

The protections Hoosiers have been accustomed to for years are under assault by our utilities, and it is up to members of the House to stop this legislation in its tracks.

Why should Indiana ratepayers bear the burden of increased utility bills until the rate case is reviewed? Many of my constituents are elderly or live paycheck to paycheck. An increased utility bill could literally be taking food off of their tables. It doesn't help them that they might get a credit a year from now.

Why should the IURC and the OUCC be put under tighter timelines to determine rate cases? I need not look past NIPSCO’s last rate case (originally requesting a 17 percent increase that was reduced to 7 percent) to see the overreaching of utilities at the expense of consumers and the importance of a fully investigated and fully reviewed rate case that allows ample time for public comment, intervening parties to be heard and a review by the IURC and OUCC.

It seems especially absurd that we are discussing deregulation and revenue ideas for utilities at the same time many of our companies are bragging to Wall Street about the great fiscal condition of their balance sheets.

Indiana is in charge of regulating the utility monopolies across our state. All indications are that the utility industry is doing well in our state with the current system of regulation and under the jurisdiction of the IURC. Why change it? Why add another burden to Hoosier ratepayers when the utility industry is doing so well?

Making the utility industry in Indiana explain to the IURC and its ratepayers necessary and prudent reasons for any rate change as we’ve always done makes common sense.

I respectfully ask the House Utility Committee to oppose SB 560.

Thomas McDermott Jr. is mayor of Hammond. The opinions are the writer's.

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