By Joanna M. Foster on March 31, 2014 at 12:44 pm
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has refused to either sign or veto a bill that would end Indiana’s state-wide energy efficiency program which will now, by default, become law. By Indiana law if the governor does not sign or veto a bill, it becomes law on its own.
In a statement released as his window to veto the bill was closing last Thursday, the Republican governor wrote:
“I could not sign this bill because it does away with a worthwhile energy efficiency program. I could not veto this bill because doing so would increase the cost of utilities for Hoosier ratepayers and make Indiana less competitive by denying relief to large electricity consumers, including our state’s manufacturing base.”
Gov. Pence indicated that he would call on the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to develop a new energy efficiency program that will include an opt-out for large electricity consumers, which was the original goal of the Indiana Senators who first introduced the bill.
The Energizing Indiana Program, launched two years ago by former governor Mitch Daniels, charges utility customers a small monthly fee on their energy bill — the average household pays $2/month — and the money is used to conduct energy audits, weatherization programs and rebates on energy-saving appliances. The program’s website says it’s saved enough energy in the past two years to power nearly 78,000 homes in Indiana. Just last year, Purdue University’s State Utility Forecasting Group released a study predicting that Indiana’s energy efficiency program would save 1,800 megawatts in peak energy demand by 2022. Those savings could help avoid the construction of new power plants which are ultimately paid for rate-payers.
The original Senate bill, introduced by Sen. Jim Merritt, (R-Indianapolis) and later amended by the House, was designed to allow industries that use 1 megawatt or more of electricity per month to opt out of the Energizing Indiana program, which they claimed was proving a financial burden and not offering useful benefits.
The House amendment introduced by Rep. Heath VanNatter, (R-Kokomo) added a measure that effectively ended the program altogether by prohibiting the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) from extending or entering into new contracts for the program after Dec. 31, 2014. The amendment also prohibits the IURC from requiring utilities to meet any energy savings goals
The amended measure passed both the House and Senate by wide margins 69-26 and 37-8, respectively.
“Today’s decision makes Indiana the first state in the nation to roll back its energy savings goals,” said Jodi Perras, Indiana’s Representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, in a statement. “There’s no denying that hundreds of energy efficiency workers will be out of a job next January when utilities cancel or scale back home energy audits, appliance rebates, and low-income home weatherization programs. We will now work with our coalition partners to make sure Indiana electric utilities will be required to replace what they’ve destroyed, despite their historic failure to reduce energy demand for the benefit of their customers.”
“While I believe that the governor is sincere with his intentions in pursuing legislative options to Energizing Indiana, I’m not so sure that he will succeed,” Kerwin Olson, Executive Director of Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana told Indiana Public Media.
Unfortunately, if the Indiana Legislature doesn’t approve a new energy efficiency program, the bill eliminating Energizing Indiana also bars the Pence from establishing a replacement on its own.
Before the bill became law, Indiana was one of 26 states that require utilities to offer programs that reduce energy use.