Another viewpoint: House energy bill stuck in 20th century

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Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

Republican state Rep. Ed Soliday, chairman of the House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee, has filed a bill that would establish a statewide energy plan – something Indiana has lacked since Mitch Daniels left the governor’s office in 2013.

Two years ago, the Indiana General Assembly reestablished the 21st Century Energy Task Force to weigh the impact emerging technologies and a transition from fossil fuels might have on the state’s electrical system. Soliday’s House Bill 1007 lays out “five pillars” of Indiana utility service he announced in October: Reliability, affordability, resiliency, stability and environmental sustainability.

But the exclusion of any expansion of affordability initiatives in the proposal shows indifference to the plight of vulnerable Hoosier populations and their struggles paying utility bills.

The new recommendation the energy task force made concerning affordability was that state agencies, such as the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority and the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, should communicate with utilities and stakeholders to increase awareness of customer assistance programs.

“That fundamentally misunderstands what’s going on out there. Why (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) funds get exhausted every year. Why township trustees are doling out assistance dollars left and right,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition. “Many of the poor relief agencies that we’ve spoken to say they basically use all of their money to help people pay their utility bills, meaning they don’t have money to help with school fees and doctor bills and toothbrushes and backpacks and clothes.”

There’s no recommendation about increasing investments in conservation and energy efficiency, either.

The energy task force ignored the need to expand opportunities for rooftop solar, despite passage of the federal Inflation Reduction Act, which offers tax credits and incentives for such efficiency upgrades, for instance.

“We were very disappointed with what we felt was a report that was anything but 21st century,” Olson said. “This should have been called the 20th Century Energy Task Force because it turns a blind eye to where the markets are, where the energy delivery system is going. It seems to be conflating the idea of reliability, resiliency, affordability and all of this stuff with the old business model that is rapidly changing.”

Indiana is swimming against a national tide of energy transition: federal policy encouraging greater adoption of customer-owned energy resources such as solar and batteries; a rapidly changing energy marketplace driving innovation and investment across the nation; and demand from Hoosiers for local, clean and affordable energy.

There are opportunities for investment in energy transmission, customer savings and economic growth this legislative session. As an energy plan, HB 1007 maintains the status quo. This is not the leadership Hoosiers need.