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IN Lawmakers Take Up Protections for Utility Customers



February 11, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS - A broad group of organizations is supporting bills in both houses of the Indiana Legislature calling for changes to a 30-year contract that commits the state to purchase natural gas from Leucadia Corporation.

Nachy Kanfer, deputy director, central region, for the Sierra Club, said a committee hearing on the Senate version, SB 510, is coming up Thursday, and the bill has broad support.

"We've seen utilities and citizen groups, folks on the right wing and the left wing, senior citizens' advocates, environmental advocates, consumer advocates, all come out and say, 'The legislature needs to act to protect Hoosier ratepayers from Leucadia,'" Kanfer declared.

The current contract commits Indiana to buy natural gas from Leucadia and sell it on the open market. If the state makes a profit, the state and Leucadia share. If the gas is sold at a loss, ratepayers would make up the difference in their utility bills. The contract guarantees $100 million in savings to ratepayers, but only at the end of the 30-year deal.

The proposed legislation calls for evaluating the gains and losses every three years, with the ability to adjust and protect consumers. The corresponding state House measure is HB 1515.

AARP Indiana state director June Lyle said her organization is closely watching what happens with the bi-partisan legislation.

"We are supportive of SB 510 because it really puts a stop to the raw deal that utility ratepayers would be getting otherwise, under this contract."

Kerwin Olson, who heads the Citizens Action Coalition, said lawmakers' original intent was to provide long-term, low-cost, reliable natural gas, but loopholes in the contract have left consumers holding the bag.

"Ratepayers bear 100 percent of this risk and are exposed to enormous rate increases, and so it's our hope that we get SB 510 through so the General Assembly can fulfill their commitment they have made to captive ratepayers," Olson asserted.

Ultimately, Olson said, his group is opposed to the Rockport substitute natural gas plant, because of economic and environmental effects. They would prefer the statute be removed and the plant not be constructed.

Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service - IN
 

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