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Calls for Lawmakers to Repeal the Indiana Gasification Contract

November 19, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS - After a recent ruling by the Indiana Court of Appeals blocking a synthetic natural gas contract on a technicality, consumer groups are calling on the legislature to repeal the deal entirely.

Under the contract, the Indiana Finance Authority would purchase synthetic natural gas from Leucadia National Corporation's proposed coal gasification plant in Rockport, Indiana, then sell it on the wholesale market. Profits would be split 50-50 between Leucadia and the state, and consumers would see a break on their bills. If the gas were sold at a loss ratepayers would pay for the difference.

Citizens Action Coalition executive director Kerwin Olson says the contract came about in 2007.

"You have legislators kind of hiding behind the fact that natural gas prices were high at the time, so this seemed like a good deal. But consumer protections were eliminated, exposing the ratepayers of the State of Indiana to enormous risk, irrespective of what the price of gas is. So, this is just bad consumer law that needs to go."

Indiana Gasification, a Leucadia subsidiary, guarantees a combined savings of $100 million at the end of the 30-year contract. Vectren, an Evansville-based utility, opposes the plan, and estimates the deal will cost ratepayers over $1 billion during the first eight years.

Indiana Gasification, headed by outgoing Governor Mitch Daniels' former aide Mark Lubbers, disputes those figures, saying they believe gas prices will rise again.

State Representative Ryan Dvorak, Democrat of South Bend, says lawmakers must make sure ratepayers get a fair shake.

"There's also some questions raised by the Court of Appeals about whether or not there had to be guaranteed savings passed on to consumers and what the definition of guaranteed savings are. We could seek to clarify that."

Governor-elect Mike Pence, in a statement, says he has taken no position on the Indiana Gasification contract but has heard from both those for and those against. He says he's committed to working with both sides, but will honor commitments the state has already made.

Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service - IN