IN Republicans propose utilities deregulation

Drawn-out construction of nuclear and 'clean-coal' power plants will come at the expense of Indiana taxpayers if SB 251 passes, according to CAC.

  • Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Drawn-out construction of nuclear and 'clean-coal' power plants will come at the expense of Indiana taxpayers if SB 251 passes, according to CAC.

Citizens Action Coalition (CAC) is up in arms, and with good reason. On Wednesday, the watchdog group called for the withdrawal of SB 251, a Republican bill brought to the floor of the State Senate Thursday morning that could bump already skyrocketing utility rates in support of “clean energy projects” — a blanket euphemism lawmakers have adopted for nuclear power and coal gasification initiatives.

According to the Indiana General Assembly’s digest of the bill, SB 251 authorizes the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) to allow companies to adjust rates as they see fit in funding power plant construction. Expenses would include site selection, design, licensing and permitting.

One problem: consumers would be forced to continually pour taxes into drawn-out projects that already have a reputation for hyperextending financial backing. To illustrate, Indianapolis Business Journal reported that as of Feb. 7, construction of Duke Energy’s newest clean-coal plant was 30 percent over budget estimates. In a statement Wednesday, CAC pointed out that Wall Street financiers have refused to get involved with such expensive, ungainly endeavors.

“Ultimately, SB 251 will lead to prohibitively expensive and confiscatory electric rates in the state,” said Kerwin Olson, CAC’s program director.

At the core of its objection to the bill, CAC took issue with the deregulation of utility revenue, which would likely result in excessive profit to utility companies like Duke. “It represents the proverbial blank check to Indiana’s monopoly electric utility companies,” Olson said.

SB 251, which Olson called a “utility Christmas wish list,” would further elevate big business presence by empowering utilities to track their own costs. The sanction would drastically reduce the incentive for companies to file rate cases, standard reviews that ensure proposed rate changes are fair and necessary.

Members of CAC warn that the ongoing development of nuclear and coal industries in lieu of greener sources are in a greedy effort to drain more money from consumers.

“Ratepayers would be mandated to assume all of the risk, while monopoly utility companies walk away with all the profit,” Olson said, according to Wednesday’s news release. “The bill not only defies free market economics, it is morally indefensible.”

The CAC makes a valid point: consumers would take on full risk in funding wasteful, potentially fruitless projects, while utilities give them the slip in reporting or assessing rate changes. Unfortunately, a Statehouse led by Republicans who voice continued support for nuclear energy as an alternative resource, means the consumer-unfriendly bill may just make it into law.

Given last year’s controversy surrounding former IURC administrative law judge Scott Storms’ incestuous relationship with Duke, it’s absurd that legislators would entertain the idea of unleashing utility companies to regulate themselves. The state’s continued endorsement of environmentally unsound energy sources only compounds the problem, all at the expense of taxpayers forced to live in the deteriorating climate.

Hoosiers would do well to keep an eye on this potentially costly proposal as it develops, and pray that state lawmakers keep their best interests in mind.