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Indy Star Editorial: “Let’s have a say about utility rate increases” February 1, 2011

Posted by Laura Arnold in 2011 Indiana General Assembly, Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), Uncategorized.
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 http://www.indystar.com/article/20110131/OPINION08/101310307/Let-s-say-about-rate-increases?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Opinion|s

Jan 31, 2011  

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission has had its problems of late, but the solution is not to diminish its role in consumer protection.

That is precisely what is called for in Senate Bill 512, which would create a mechanism whereby utilities’ rate increases would kick in without the annual IURC review.

The author is state Sen. James Merritt, R-Indianapolis, chairman of the Utilities and Technology Committee and the most influential Indiana lawmaker when it comes to electric, gas, water and wastewater issues.

The utilities industry knows his importance. It is the largest of his election campaign supporters. Last year, Merritt also became vice president of corporate affairs with the railroad that hauls coal to electricity-generating plants.

It appears no coincidence, then, that Merritt is proposing a change that the utilities want.

Nor is it surprising that consumer advocates, from the industrial to the residential level, are outraged by a plan that would shut them out of the ratemaking process.

They are right to demand a say in the oversight of monopolies that charge $14 billion a year for an array of essential services. They are right to demand that the IURC keep that oversight.

Proponents of the measure insist it would serve consumers by making rate increases more stable and less subject to sudden spikes. Also, they say, it would provide transparency by requiring utilities to open their books wider.

To take the second argument first, there should be no question about transparency when a utility comes before the people’s regulatory body to make its case for needing more money, with opponents on hand for rebuttal. If there is, the IURC needs to toughen up, not back out.

As for making rate increases more steady, how is that of greater benefit to consumers than forcing utilities to justify those increases, small or large?

The proposal would do for private companies what the General Assembly did for itself several years ago when it pegged its pay to that of judges, guaranteeing regular increases without the inconvenience of public debate. Making life easier and quieter for those in power is not a worthy goal of government, and the regulation of government-franchised industries is no exception.

The scandals that have plagued the IURC in recent months resulted from chumminess with one side of the ratemaking debate. The remedy is not to close down the debate.

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