Governor Pence Urged to Veto Utility “Tracker” Bill

Indiana Governor Mike Pence
Indiana Governor Mike Pence
The Citizens Action Coalition is urging Gov. Mike Pence to veto Senate Bill 560 when it hits his desk, claiming the bill would allow natural gas companies to raise rates without thorough regulatory scrutiny. Kerwin Olson, executive director of the coalition, said that under the bill, natural gas companies would avoid the scrutiny of a full-blown rate case by using what they call a “tracker,” which would allow the utility companies to add to bills more frequently in order to pay for infrastructure improvements.

“This bill would essentially allow the utility companies to raise rates once every six months for transmission projects, distribution projects, storage projects – projects that are involved in the day-to-day operations of a utility company providing reliable service to the public,” said Olson.

Meanwhile, backers of the bill say the trackers must be pre-approved by regulators, but Olson said the bill will negatively impact hardworking Hoosiers – those on fixed incomes especially.

To assuage those concerns, Bill sponsor and House utilities chairman, Representative Eric Koch, said tracker protections were built into the bill to safeguard consumers.

“Limiting those rate increases at two percent and requiring IURC pre-approval and requiring the utility who uses a tracker to go in for a full rate case within seven years,” said Koch.

Koch said the trackers give utility companies the ability to better align their revenue and expenses.

On the other hand, the Indiana Propane Gas Association opposes the bill, claiming it unfairly targets consumers. Executive Director Scot Imus said it allows natural gas utilities to avoid spending their own profits to expand, giving the entrenched industries an advantage.

“If they were using their own money, and not the checkbooks of other ratepayers, they would probably be hard-pressed to tackle some of these expansion efforts,” he said.

The bill passed both houses, but not without some changes. If the Senate agrees with the changes, the bill will land on the governor’s desk; if not, the bill will first head to conference committee.