[r63] Revamping the world of utilities

Posted by: Zach Weismiller  | Friday, July 26, 2013

During the hottest and coldest months in Indiana, utility costs are always a concern for Hoosiers. Because our state relies so heavily on the use of coal, Indiana enjoys electricity rates much lower than many other states. While the cost of energy in Indiana is comparatively low, the expenses of having the air conditioning run non-stop right now still strains Hoosiers’ wallets.

There are various energy conservation strategies for homeowners to limit their costs. These include setting your air conditioner at the highest comfortable temperature and making sure your home has proper insulation. The General Assembly is also working to ensure utility rates are fair and reasonable.  

For instance, some communities in Indiana are users of a municipal water utility that is outside of the municipal boundaries. This excludes them from representation within the municipality and in some cases leaves them without the option to appeal their water rates. Due to their location outside the municipality, their rates are often higher than the rates paid by those within the municipality.

This session, I supported legislation which provides a mechanism for ratepayers outside of municipal boundaries to appeal to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission over water rates in excess of 50 percent higher than the rate being paid inside the municipality (House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1307). This legislation will also encourage resolution at the local level by requiring extraterritorial ratepayers to petition the municipality before they petition the IURC for a review.

In the past, there were also instances where utility companies were not responsive in moving their lines in a timely manner for a major highway, street or road project undertaken by the local unit. This resulted in extended road closures and project delays. To address this, I supported legislation which authorizes a local unit of government to enter into an agreement with a utility concerning the relocation of their facilities when such projects occur (Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 365). This agreement must include a date for relocation and conditions under which the utility is excused from meeting that date. 

This program is modeled after a successful coordination program implemented by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) in 2008 for relocating utility facilities in conjunction with major highway projects.  It was unanimously supported because, previously, there was not a mechanism in place for cooperation between local units of government and utilities in regard to the planning and construction of major infrastructure changes. This will allow them to cooperate and collaborate on the expansion of both utility telecommunications and public transportation infrastructure thus avoiding cost overruns and saving taxpayer dollars.

These pieces of legislation will bring better communication and partnership between the ratepayer and utility company as well as the utility company and the local government. Not only have we worked to keep rates fair for ratepayers outside the municipal boundaries, but we have also worked to save money for both the local unit of government and the utility providers by increasing efficiency and planning. 

These steps will go a long way in providing more relief to Hoosiers and holding utility companies accountable. I believe that these new laws are not only fair but that they will benefit the public moving forward.