House panel OKs bill targeting energy efficiency

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 12, 2014 at 6:56 pm •  Published: February 12, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A bill that would allow Indiana's industries that use one megawatt or more of electricity to pull out of the state's energy-efficiency program passed an Indiana House committee Wednesday despite warnings by its opponents that the measure would undermine the 2-year-old program.

The House Utilities and Energy Committee passed the bill on a 10-2 vote, sending it to the full House for consideration. The Indiana Senate had approved the measure Feb. 3.

The bill targets the Energizing Indiana program that began in 2012 under former Gov. Mitch Daniels' administration and is funded by fees that residential, commercial and industrial users pay on their monthly electricity bills.

That money finances the program's energy efficiency home assessments, low-income home weatherizations, energy efficiency lighting discounts and other cost-cutting efforts that have saved enough energy to power nearly 74,000 Indiana homes in the past two year, according to the program's website.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, told the committee the program's fees had made it more difficult for the state to compete with other states in attracting new industries. He also said that while residential and commercial customers were benefiting from the program's offerings, only about 18 percent of Indiana's industries have taken part in any of those.

Merritt also said the program is unfair to industries because many of them are already paying for sophisticated in-house programs focused on cutting energy use and pursuing other efficiencies.

"I feel strongly that this will allow us to compete, that this will stop the industrials from possibly paying twice for efficiency," he told the panel.

But representatives of environmental and citizens groups testified that the bill would gut the Energizing Indiana program just as it was showing results. They urged the panel to convert the legislation to a summer study committee measure, arguing that the proposal needed much more study.

Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, told the panel the bill would discriminate against residential and commercial power users by allowing only certain industries to leave the program and stop paying the monthly fees, thereby draining resources from the program. He said the measure "goes against the grain" of policies other industrial Midwestern states have embraced.