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Will Indiana's economy cool due to rising energy costs?

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

If you own the poplar iPhone application “Gas Buddy,” then you are no doubt familiar with its periodic “Price Hike Alerts” warning of impending local gas price spikes. Though not as imminent or dramatic as the overnight price spikes we often see at the pumps, there is indeed an increase looming for Indiana’s electricity prices. Indiana is losing its foot-hold as a low-cost energy state, having dropped from fourth to 13th in the nation since 2002. The reason? Simply stated, new and pending environmental regulations are requiring cleaner coal energy. For better or worse, more than 80 percent of Indiana’s electricity generation comes from coal. The cost to clean up the coal plants to meet environmental regulations can easily climb into the hundreds of millions.

shoultz Shoultz

Another culprit for Indiana’s rising energy costs is Father Time. More than 76 percent of Indiana’s utility-owned electricity generating units are nearing retirement with over 30 years in service. There’s a bit of a perfect storm brewing, leaving Indiana utilities with few good choices for serving demand, controlling prices and complying with environmental regulations.

Indiana’s largest commercial and industrial companies are understandably concerned. One Hoosier manufacturer has stated that utilities account for approximately 50 percent of its total costs to convert raw materials to a finished, marketable product. Many of Indiana’s manufacturers are competing nationally and internationally. While Indiana enjoys the jobs and tax contributions from large companies, the cost of energy often plays a significant role in a company’s decision to stay here, particularly when millions can be saved by relocating production facilities to another state or country with lower-cost energy.

Like commuters jockeying to find cheap gas before the price hike, some Indiana companies are exploring ways to minimize the harm expected from increasing electricity prices. Some are considering building their own generation facilities; others are seeking discounted rates through special contracts with their electric utility. Many are taking a closer look at ways to conserve energy, either through efficiency measures or by agreeing to interrupt their operations during high-cost peak demand periods.

Policymakers have noticed. In the 2013 session, the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation that, among other things, allows large customers to apply for short-term discounts of up to 30-percent off a portion of their electricity bill. To receive the discounts, companies must get approval from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and show that the discount is necessary to attract and maintain jobs. After prodding by some of Indiana’s largest companies, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is now investigating whether large users must pay for their utility’s standard energy efficiency programs if the customer self-funds its own initiative that is specifically tailored to reduce the customer’s energy consumption.

Many question if Indiana can be saved by competition. On Sept. 19, the Indiana General Assembly’s Regulatory Flexibility Committee will hear at least one view on whether Indiana’s law should be changed to allow customers to choose their electricity provider. Proponents of the idea say that in “customer choice” states like Illinois, customers enjoy lower overall electricity prices because the competitive market is at work. Opponents, including Indiana’s investor-owned utilities, say that states with customer choice actually have higher electricity rates. They claim that an open market creates volatility, which in turn discourages utilities from investing in much-needed baseload capacity.

It is too soon to tell whether our state’s energy policy has gone far enough to save Indiana’s economy from an exodus of our largest businesses. Will our leaders successfully navigate the complicated political waters to create energy policies that attract and retain jobs critical to Indiana’s economy while satisfying residential customers, utilities and federal mandates for cleaner energy? It is a tall order, for sure, but we need to get it right.•

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Nikki Shoultz is a partner is the Utilities, Energy & Renewables Group at Bose McKinney & Evans LLP. She can be reached at nshoultz@boselaw.com.

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  1. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

  2. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

  3. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  4. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  5. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

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