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Courier-Press: Official with Rockport coal-to-gas plant says contract changes would kill the deal January 22, 2013

Posted by Laura Arnold in 2013 Indiana General Assembly, Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), Vectren.
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Dear IndianaDG Readers:

The Leucadia Indiana Gasification plant proposed for Rockport, IN is likely to be a “hot potato” this session of the Indiana General Assembly. Sen. Eckerty has introduced SB 510. The digest for SB 510 is as follows:

Substitute natural gas contracts. Defines “guarantee of savings” with respect to retail end use customers of substitute natural gas (SNG). Amends the definition of “purchase contract”. Defines “savings shortfall”. Requires the Indiana finance authority (IFA) to submit a final purchase contract, including amendments, and any other agreements with a producer of SNG to the utility regulatory commission (IURC). Requires the IFA to determine on a three year cycle if retail end use customers are provided a guarantee of savings or a savings shortfall under a purchase contract. Requires the IFA to electronically submit its findings to the IURC. Requires the IURC to verify and approve the findings and, if there is a savings shortfall, order a producer of SNG to provide a refund.

There appears to be a delay still in House Bills appearing in the system, therefore, Rep. Crouch’s bill is still not available from the Indiana General Assembly website. Eventually, you should be able to find the bill she has introduced HERE.

Also be sure to read the second article from the IBJ for more background on this issue.

When there is more information about this issue you will be able to read it here.

Laura Ann Arnold

Lawmakers questioning wisdom of 30-year deal to buy plant’s gas at fixed price

By Eric Bradner, Evansville Courier & Press, Posted January 18, 2013 at 5:57 p.m., updated January 18, 2013 at 10:06 p.m.

INDIANAPOLIS —State lawmakers’ attempts to rework the deal Indiana struck with developers of the proposed Rockport coal-to-gas plant would kill the nearly $3 billion project, one of its top officials said Friday.

As a shale gas boom drives down natural gas prices, two Republican lawmakers say they question the wisdom of the Indiana Finance Authority’s 30-year contract to buy and then resell the plant’s synthetic gas at a fixed rate.

Both have filed bills that would drastically alter its terms. The bills would trigger the ratepayer protection mechanisms included in the contract every three years, rather than waiting until the end of the deal.

That would stop the plant in its tracks, said Mark Lubbers, a former

Gov. Mitch Daniels aide who is helming the Rockport effort for Leucadia National Corp.

“Any ‘true-up’ of savings before the end of the contract term makes the project unfinanceable,” he said.

The House and Senate utility committees could consider the two measures at a rare joint meeting, the chairmen of those committees told the Courier & Press on Friday.

“We can tell you that we have had many conversations regarding the Rockport coal gasification plant with our Senate and House colleagues. We’re currently considering holding a joint hearing on the issue, although no final plans have been set,” Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, and Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, said in a joint statement.

Lubbers meanwhile doubled down on what he said is a rock-solid deal for Hoosier gas customers over the long term, saying Indiana needs a second plant — this one in Lake County — that would convert petroleum coke, rather than coal.

“Two plants would provide better consumer protection and keep even more Hoosier energy spending in Indiana,” Lubbers said.

His stance sets the stage for what could emerge as a critical battle in the opening weeks of the first term of new Gov. Mike Pence, who has not taken a stance on the project.

In 2009 lawmakers gave the Indiana Finance Authority the green light to hammer out a 30-year contract with Leucadia’s Indiana Gasification LLC to buy its synthetic natural gas and then resell it through the state’s utilities.

That deal, signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels, set a rate of between $6 and $7 per MMBtu for the life of the contract. It would have utilities tie 17 percent of ratepayers’ bills to that Rockport price, rather than their open market rate.

It appeared to be a steal when natural gas prices topped $13 per unit as recently as 2008. Since then, though, a nationwide shale gas boom has sent prices plummeting to near $3 per unit now.

And now that Daniels is gone, some lawmakers are looking for ways out of the deal.

“The market has changed, conditions have changed, and so we need to take a fresh look at this situation and there needs to be some changes that will protect the ratepayer,” said Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville.

Crouch and Sen. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown, filed the bills that the utility committee chairmen are considering granting a joint hearing.

The Indiana Finance Authority’s deal required Leucadia’s Indiana Gasification LLC to set $150 million aside in an escrow account to reimburse ratepayers for any losses at the end of the 30-year deal.

The measures Crouch and Eckerty are pushing would shorten that window, requiring Indiana Gasification to pay ratepayers back for any losses every three years — a move that would harm Indiana Gasification’s bid for a federal loan guarantee.

Opponents of the Rockport plant include Evansville-based

Vectren Corp., which estimates the deal could cost Indiana ratepayers $1 billion in extra gas prices over its first eight years, and a host of environmental groups.

“When this thing was conceived, it was a good idea. Natural gas was volatile, there was an unknown long-term supply, and we were just coming off three or four years of the most volatile natural gas prices we’d seen in 25 years,” said Mike Roeder, Vectren’s vice president of government affairs and communications.

“The concept made a ton of sense, and so no legislator should feel any guilt about a vote from back then because it was a reasonable idea. But what has changed is shale gas.”

Lubbers, who has argued that recent years’ volatility in natural gas prices make the case for a project with fixed rates, said he will continue defending the project if state lawmakers consider the two bills this year.

“On the one hand, we are always grateful for a platform to talk about the plant and the contract. It is extraordinary public policy — the first time consumers have ever been guaranteed savings for any energy product; the first time consumers have ever had a lien on energy utility assets; a huge step forward in clean coal technology. It is a big idea and makes Indiana a real leader,” he said.

“On the other hand, after an 18-month negotiation that produced more consumer protection than the legislature or we ever envisioned, and an 11-month (Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission) consideration resulting in unanimous approval of the contract, to have it politically challenged by a self-interested utility is disappointing.”

The state’s contract with Indiana Gasification is also the subject of a court battle.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the state’s utility regulatory commission’s approval of the deal last year, pointing to a problem that the Indiana Finance Authority and Indiana Gasification said would be easily fixed.

But Vectren has sought to use that opening to force the deal back onto the starting blocks, requiring it to be vetted and approved by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission all over again.

Bill could be hurdle for proposed $2.8B synthetic gas plant

Chris O’Malley, January 15, 2013, Indianapolis Business Journal

The company that plans to build a $2.8 billion synthetic gas plant in Indiana could face another hurdle if a bill introduced by a state senator is successful at the Statehouse.
Under the legislation, state utility regulators could order Indiana Gasification LLC to make refunds to gas customers every three years if the price of synthetic gas it produces from coal is greater than the market price of natural gas over the period.

Senate Bill 510, by Sen. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown, is aimed at alleviating concerns raised by consumer groups and some lawmakers about legislation passed in 2010 that helped enable the plant proposed for Rockport, near the Ohio River.

That legislation allowed the Indiana Finance Authority to act as a purchasing intermediary for synthetic gas produced at the plant. The authority would sell the gas on the open market. Whether gas customers would receive discounts, or see their bills increase, would depend on whether the authority made or lost money on its sales.

It’s estimated that Indiana Gasification could produce gas between at a cost of $6 and $7 per MMBtu, a common measurement used by the energy industry.

When the Rockport plant was proposed, natural gas was selling for around $13 per MMBtu, Eckerty said in a prepared statement Tuesday. Butwith an abundant supply of natural gas now available, the fuel recently was selling at $3.10.

“With these changes in mind, many state officials – including myself – believe it is not in Hoosiers’ best interests for the state to put taxpayers at risk by subsidizing substitute natural gas,” Eckerty said.

Natural gas prices have plummeted in recent years, with mass extraction of natural gas from shale deposits. Evansville-based gas and electric utility Vectren projects the synthetic gas made at the proposed plant would cost customers $1 billion in the first eight years, or up to $375 for an average retail customer.

Critics say under the current contract with the state, natural gas customers may not see Indiana Gasification’s promised $100 million in savings until the end of the 30-year contract.

Legislators who passed the original measure did not intend for such savings to be realized so late, said Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition.

“This is a good proposal. It clarifies the Legislature’s original intent,” Olson said of the new bill. “It helps to erase the generational discrimination.”

Indiana Gasification has found fault with opponents’ insistence that natural gas prices will remain low over the long-haul, noting that natural gas prices historically have been volatile.

That volatility is a certainty was citied by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission in its approval of the deal.

Indiana Gasification also insists that the proposed plant will diversify the state’s supply of gas and help lessen volatility.

Currently, the gas supply contract between Indiana Gasification and the Indiana Finance Authority is mired in litigation.

Last October, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed regulator approval of the gas-purchasing contract deal, but on narrow grounds. It found the legislation authorizing the purchases never was intended to result in certain industrial customers’ sharing in the costs or benefits of the purchases, as would residential customers.

Indiana Gasification said a simple, 37-word deletion of language in the contract would satisfy the court. But Vectren has filed an objection, arguing that the contract was essentially made null and void by the court last October and that the regulatory process should start over again.

The proposed plant operator counters that Vectren already lost on many of its arguments and that the tactic is meant to cause delays that could jeopardize financing of the project.

Eckerty’s bill could potentially void the disputed contract between Indiana Gasification and the state finance authority “because it makes retroactive changes to current statute that would modify the terms of that contract,” said a bill analysis by Indiana Legislative Services Agency.

Indiana Gasification officials did not immediately offer comment on the bill.

HB 1128 Renewable energy resources definition scheduled for Indiana Senate Hearing 3/31/2011 March 29, 2011

Posted by Laura Arnold in 2011 Indiana General Assembly, Uncategorized.
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This Committee meeting was posted Tuesday morning, March 29th at 8:35 AM. Will HB 1128 become a vehicle for SB 251?

  

Agenda for: Senate Utilities & Technology Committee

Thursday, March 31, 2011

10:00 AM EDT

ROOM 233, State House, Indianapolis

Chairman : Merritt

Members : Leising R.M., Gard, Kruse, Schneider, Tomes, Yoder,

Randolph R.M.M., Breaux, R. Young

Hearing : HB 1128 Renewable energy resources. (Koch Merritt)

Sens. Gard, Hershman and Merritt: This bill –SB 251–offers the right energy policy for state March 1, 2011

Posted by Laura Arnold in 2011 Indiana General Assembly.
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Editor’s Note: I strongly urge that you click the link below to read and study SB 251 and determine for yourself  if  “this bill offers the right energy policy for [the] state” of Indiana. Without getting into all the details, I would merely like to offer this observation from data collected and reported by the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE).

DSIRE’ s Quantitative RPS Data Project provides quantitative information about state renewables portfolio standards (RPS). In the RPS Data Spreadsheet, state requirements are defined by year and by resource class and include other key data elements such as monetary penalties or alternative compliance payments, eligibility of new and/or existing facilities, the percentage of the state’s electric load covered by the policy, comments to clarify data entries or assumptions, and an update memo to describe recent changes to the data.

Let’s set aside the issue of a mandatory vs. a voluntary goal for the state of Indiana. SB 251 establishes an anemic goal for so-called clean energy technologies which includes both clean coal and nuclear power. This data provides information on the Voluntary RPS Goals adopted by various states:

North Dakota: 10% by 2015

Oklahoma: 15% by 2015

South Dakota: 10% by 2015

Utah: 20% by 2015

Vermont: 20% by 2015

Virginia: 15% of base year (2007) sales by 2025

West Virginia: 25% by 2025

Now compare this to the voluntary goal established for Indiana’s electric utilities in SB 251 of 10% by 2025.

This blog will report on additional analysis of SB 251 in the coming weeks.

What do you think?

Laura Ann Arnold

http://www.indystar.com/article/20110301/OPINION01/103010308/1031/OPINION01/My-View-bill-offers-right-energy-policy-state

Among his many bold visions for Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels advocates a first-ever comprehensive energy policy for Hoosiers. Daniels’ objectives — clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy sources making our state more self-sufficient and economically competitive — are worthy of legislators’ time and talent. The Indiana General Assembly can help achieve these goals for consumers by supporting Senate Bill 251.

Producing and distributing energy are increasingly linked to environmental considerations. Energy costs are growing concerns for business investors and employers. Decisions we make as a state will greatly impact Indiana’s competitiveness to retain and attract jobs. So, these same decisions will impact the quality of life and cost of living for generations of Hoosiers.

Fortunately for us, 36 other states currently have more expensive utility rates than Indiana. In fact, energy here is more affordable for homeowners and employers than in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio with which we compete for jobs and skilled workers every day.

So the looming questions become how we continue to promote job growth, protect our environment and remain a lower-cost energy state.

As lawmakers, we are approached from all sides of the energy debate. Be assured, there is no shortage of opinions. Some say Indiana should abandon coal — even clean coal — as a principal fuel source and resort almost exclusively to renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydro. Others tell us renewables are unreliable, too costly and inappropriate for large commercial consumers. Still others suggest the best answer is to promote the development of safe nuclear power. They are convinced it’s clean, dependable and, while expensive to build, remains the most cost-effective power source for the future.

We’ve listened to these disparate opinions and have concluded that a good public policy lies somewhere in the center and not at the polar extremes. That’s why we’re offering SB 251.

Our legislation encourages major investments to improve the environmental quality of generating facilities in Indiana — as opposed to taking those investments and jobs to other states. The bill rightly contains pay-as-you-go provisions to attract investment, create jobs and safeguard the environment by avoiding cost cutting on safety measures.

SB 251 recognizes and references the important roles of clean energy resources. Our bill encourages utilities to ramp up on renewable energy yet it avoids imposing government mandates like high-energy-cost states have unwisely done. Rather than dictating a one-size-fits-all solution, utilities can select from a menu of options to develop the best strategy for their customers, geographic area and investors.

No one special interest group or lobbyist is entirely happy with our bill and the policies it reflects. But that’s OK. Sometimes that’s the best signal that we, as citizen legislators, have achieved a balance among competing interests. After all, our goal is to enact long-term energy strategies that best serve the interests of Hoosiers.

Gard, R-Greenfield, is chair of the Indiana Senate Committee on Energy and Environmental Affairs. Hershman, R-Lafayette, is majority whip and chair of the Committee on Tax and Fiscal Policy. Merritt, R-Indianapolis, is Senate Majority Caucus chair and chair of the Committee on Utilities and Technology.

SB 251 Dubbed Clean Energy Bill is the One to Watch Now from Indiana Senate Republican Caucus February 7, 2011

Posted by Laura Arnold in 2011 Indiana General Assembly, Uncategorized.
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Today (2/7/2011) the Indiana Senate took SB 251 which started life during the 2011 session of the Indiana General Assembly as a “Vehicle Bill” has been transformed as the Senate Republican Caucus Energy/Utility Bill to watch this session. Dubbed a Clean Energy Bill, SB 251 has been fast tracked for a committee hearing this week as follows:

Agenda for : Senate Utilities & Technology Committee

Thursday, February 10, 2011

09:00 AM EST

Senate Chamber, State House, Indianapolis, IN

Watch video from the Senate 

Committee Chairman : Merritt

Committee Members :

Leising R.M., Gard, Kruse, Schneider, Tomes, Yoder

Randolph R.M.M., Breaux, R. Young

Committee Hearing :

SB 0251 Clean energy. (Gard, Merritt, Hershman, Boots)

DIGEST OF SB251 (Updated February 7, 2011 10:21 am – DI yl)

Clean energy. Requires the Indiana utility regulatory commission (IURC) to allow an energy utility to recover certain federally mandated costs through periodic retail rate adjustment mechanisms. Changes the term “clean coal and energy projects” to “clean energy projects” to allow the term to include nuclear energy production or generating facilities. Provides that: (1) nuclear energy production or generating facilities; and (2) purchases of energy produced by the facilities; qualify for financial incentives available for clean energy projects. Provides that a combined heat and power facility qualifies as a renewable energy resource for purposes of financial incentives for clean energy projects. Provides that an eligible business may recover qualified utility system expenses associated with a: (1) new energy production or generating facility; or (2) new nuclear energy production or generating facility. Requires the IURC to adopt rules to establish the voluntary clean energy portfolio standard program to provide incentives to participating electricity suppliers to supply specified percentages of electricity from clean energy sources. States three clean portfolio standard goals (CPS goals) that a participating electricity supplier must achieve to qualify for an incentive. Provides that a participating electricity supplier may own or purchase clean energy credits to meet a CPS goal. Beginning in 2014, requires: (1) a participating electricity supplier to report annually to the IURC on the supplier’s efforts to meet the CPS goals; and (2) the IURC to include in its annual report to the regulatory flexibility committee a summary of the information reported by participating electricity suppliers.

The reprinted version of the bill was not available at the time of this blog post, so please find here a copy of the Committee Report containing the strip and insert amendment which becomes the new bill language.

RS025101.001[1]_clean energy

SB 0054 Local regulation of video service franchises. (Holdman)

SB 0480 Various communications matters. (Hershman)