IPL submits plan to install all locking manhole covers downtown this year

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) executives were back before a state regulatory commission on Thursday. The utility is under investigation, prompted by a series of explosive incidents downtown two weeks ago, one of which sent manhole covers flying into the air.

Executives testified the event on March 19th at North and Capitol downtown was a "ten year event," calling it an extremely rare occurrence.

"We don't have any reason to believe that there's any greater risk for incidents on the downtown network," said Kelly Huntington, CEO of IPL.

The utility's launched a formal investigation to find the cause, as of this point there is no official cause. And the reason for all the outages downtown that day, the system is designed to shut itself down in damaging situations. That did not happen, and the utility cut the power manually. IPL executives testified the communication system also didn't trigger the appropriate alarm.

"We didn't have any alarm condition from the secondary communication," said Joe Bentley, IPL's senior vice president of customer operations.

IPL told the commission in filings that it is installing locking manhole covers on all 1,214 downtown manholes by December of 2015. The locking covers fly up a few inches instead of exploding in a pressurization event.

The utility said they have 840 to replace, and some of those will need extra work like excavating the street. Also, the supplier is fixing previous issues that made the locking covers hard for IPL crews to get back into, a concern for the utility.

"Generally this is a relatively new technology there isn't much industry experience with," said Huntington.

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) will investigate IPL's downtown network in the areas of safety, maintenance, and investment, a broadly-worded investigation launched after the two downtown incidents.

The utility has a pending case before the IURC to hike rates that's been combined with the investigation into the underground incidents.

That combination did not sit well with consumer-advocacy groups, who believe each matter should be investigated on its own.

"IPL will still have the ability under the law to automatically raise folks' rates in the midst of the concerns and this investigation. We strongly feel the appropriate response would've been to just stay the rate case, vet the investigation, look at the system, and then start the rate case again," said Kerwin Olson, executive director with the Citizens Action Coalition.

IPL and the IURC settled Thursday on multiple filing dates, with respect to required paperwork. A formal hearing is planned for late September.

IPL still has not released the cost of the damage incurred in March's two incidents, but the CEO said bringing in out-of-state crews to inspect all manholes before the Final Four cost roughly $600,000.

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