March 23, 2015 1:01 AM
When he allowed the measure to kill Energizing Indiana to become law last year, Gov. Mike Pence said he hoped a better energy-efficiency plan would emerge for this year’s legislative session.
But the plan that has passed the Senate and now awaits House floor action is a poor substitute for Energizing Indiana, a program that had proved very effective in helping Hoosiers cut their electricity use.
The cost of electricity in Indiana has traditionally been low, but our usage is much higher than in most states. Cutting our profligate power habits is both economically and environmentally urgent. But if the interests of Hoosier consumers are even a part of the equation, it would be better for the House to kill Senate Bill 412 than to pass it in its current form.
Unlike Energizing Indiana, an independent entity that used funds from Indiana’s utilities to help homeowners, small businesses and not-for-profit organizations find ways to cut their energy use, SB 412 would leave those efforts to the utilities themselves. It would allow Indiana Michigan Power and other utilities to set their own goals for energy conservation and ensure that the utilities are generously compensated for the electricity sales they “lose.”
The basic concept behind SB 412 seems to be that when there’s a problem in the henhouse, there’s no one better than the fox to set things right.
Last Wednesday afternoon, a line of speakers stood before the House Utilities and Energy Committee and pleaded with its members to reconsider the bill, or at least to put some parameters on how long the utilities can continue to up their charges to recover that “lost revenue.”
One particularly arresting moment came when Pastor Mike Bowling of Englewood Christian Church asked the Republican-dominated committee to live up to its own political ideals. Bowling declared himself and his congregation to be great fans of Pence. But he lamented the demise of Energizing Indiana, which he said had helped his church save money that was then directed to good causes. And, he said, “SB 412 is not what Governor Pence promised to us and to Indiana families.
“A central virtue for good conservatives everywhere is conservation,” Bowling said. “SB 412 sends the opposite message.”
After a hearing last month on an anti-solar power bill that, thankfully, was later euthanized by House Speaker Brian Bosma, the Utilities and Energy Committee was criticized for treating some of its witnesses rudely and for refusing to allow most of them to speak.
This time, courtesy was the day’s watchword. All of the opposition witnesses got to speak, and none of them was set upon by a particularly arrogant committee member.
Instead, the committee simply ignored the speakers’ suggestions on how SB 412 might be made more sensible by setting some reasonable limits on the reimbursements utilities can receive for conservation savings. Right now, as Jodi Perras of the Indiana Sierra Club argued, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission has the option of allowing utilities and their shareholders to be repaid for lost revenue. But the bill the committee approved last week makes those reimbursements mandatory and sets no limit on the timeframe for revenue collection from lost revenue.
The Indiana Citizens Action Coalition recommends that timeframe be set at three years, as it is in several other states and as is recommended in an authoritative report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
The House still has the opportunity to fix SB 412.