Power Play – Could Utility Bill Increases Go Out Of Control?
A group of residents and 2 consumer advocacy groups are expected to rally holding a large blank check near Vectren Headquarters in downtown Evansville tomorrow afternoon.
Their concern? That if Indiana House Bill 1470 is passed in the Indiana General Assembly 2019 Session, that monopoly utilities such as Vectren would, in effect, be given a blank check to spend their customers' money which would in turn raise what we as consumers pay for our gas and electric bills.
Vectren, and the Indiana Energy Association(IEA) feel differently. And considering that almost 80% of the Indiana House of Representatives passed the bill onto the Senate, thus inching this closer to being law, most Indiana lawmakers seem to also agree with utility companies.
It comes down to this - in 2013, the Indiana General Assembly passed a law which, in part, encouraged utilities to modernize their electric and gas transmission, distribution and/or storage systems(known as TDSIC). This also created a process administered through the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission(IURC). This process involves utilities having to submit a 7-year plan of changes they would like to make to their services for consumers, and also to determine and control costs that will be passed on to you, the consumer. During this time period, utilities are allowed to petition the IURC for any unknown/unplanned costs involving this plan. This is how this TDSIC charge is increased and your bill goes up from time to time. Sounds simple and appears to be fair and controlled for both the consumer and the utility companies, right?
But, there's one catch; During separate Indiana Court of Appeals and Indiana Supreme Court decisions in 2015 and 2018 respectively, the law was narrowed. And this is where the discussion between these two sides begins to get heated.
To those who feel that utility companies are monopolies only out to make money at the consumer's expense - these case decisions were a win which placed even more power into the hands of the IURC, who is responsible to determine and approve if a plan and it's costs serves consumers and is beneficial.
To the utilities and their advocates, those decisions made it difficult to uphold their end of what was a "realistic, flexible, and adaptive utility planning process" to allow them to create and maintain a reliable, safe and modern infrastructure.
Stepping forward to this moment in time, and you see utilities and the IEA pushing HB 1470 for amendments to the law in an effort to right the ship they felt was working well prior to those court cases. But, this push means consumer advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club and the Citizens Action Coalition(who are both holding tomorrow's rally) feel that all this bill does is create a loophole to subvert the IURC's control of utility companies and allow them to make more money while passing off expenses to the consumer.
If you would like to attend, the Sierra Club and Citizens Action Coalition "No Blank Checks for Monopoly Utilities Gathering" will be held tomorrow, March 21st at 2:15PM on the public sidewalk across from Vectren's Headquarters at 211 NW Riverside Dr. in downtown Evansville.
Here are information sheets from both sides of this fight for you to decide where the truth lies: