INDIANAPOLIS - Utilities could add the costs of their
infrastructure upgrades onto customers' bills after expedited
regulatory reviews, rather than Indiana's normal in-depth process,
under legislation that passed the state Senate on Tuesday. The
measure would allow utilities to use cost "trackers" - a
deregulatory move that would guarantee gas and electric providers
the revenue they need to upgrade their substations, transformers,
lines, poles and more.
It cleared the Republican-dominated Senate on a 37-12 vote
It advances to the House despite objections from opponents who
said bypassing Indiana's current process for rate hikes would lock
customers into higher bills and discourage utilities from making
the shift toward renewable energy sources.
"What utility companies want is faster access to consumers'
cash. They dictate policy that is against the public interest,"
said Kerwin Olson, the executive director of the Indianapolis-
based Citizens Action Coalition.
The use of cost trackers to help utilities pay for infrastructure
upgrades is a trend that has emerged over the past decade. At least
18 states now allow the mechanism for natural gas companies, and at
least 11 states do so for water utilities.
Senate Bill 560's author, Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Lafayette,
said the lighting mishap during this year's Super Bowl in New
Orleans underscored the need to speed up improvements to utilities'
"It's not something we think about a lot until we have a
problem, and yet our infrastructure in this state is aging," he
said, adding new groundwork is necessary for renewable energy
sources to come online.
"We have to have a grid that not only connects to it but
supports it," Hershman said. "Modernization and expansion is not
free, nor are federal mandates free."
Hershman's bill includes several other components, including tax
incentives to encourage utilities to build natural gas lines into
Indiana's rural areas - something he said could save residents
there about $1,600 per year.
It would allow utilities that have waited more than 300 days for
state regulators to rule on their requests for rate increases to
temporarily implement those rate hikes - although they would have
to reimburse ratepayers if regulators ultimately rejected their
"I don't have good news over the long term about electric rates,
due to things that I have no control over," Hershman said. …