INDIANAPOLIS – Some advocacy groups are worried a bill at the Indiana Statehouse could drive up energy prices.
House Bill 1420 would expand Indiana utility companies’ right of first refusal over new transmission infrastructure projects. That means they would get first dibs for more of these projects before allowing other energy companies to bid.
The Republican-backed bill passed out of committee in the Senate narrowly last week, drawing opposition from members of both parties.
The proposal comes as Indiana works to transition from coal to renewable energy sources, which requires transmission infrastructure upgrades. The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which oversees the power grid in Indiana and several other states, has $10 billion in upgrades planned so far.
“It’s making sure that it’s not just a blank check for the utilities,” said Chris Ventura, executive director of the Consumer Energy Alliance for the Midwest region. The organization’s members include business organizations and several big companies in the energy industry.
Ventura, whose group supports the proposal, points out the bill would still require utilities to let contractors compete to build the lines. He argues it would help bring energy prices down by keeping these projects under state control and eliminating the time needed for energy companies to bid.
“On the low end, we’ve had about several months of delays and on the high end over four years, so the average delay for competitively bid projects has been over 500 days,” Ventura said.
But others aren’t buying that argument.
“These are big projects,” said Frederic Mills, a senior policy analyst for VanceMitchem. “You want to be methodical, you want to make sure they’re right, and you want to do it in a way that best serves consumers.”
Mills represents LS Power and NextEra Energy, two renewable energy developers against the bill who may get blocked from bidding on some projects if it passes.
Mills argues if energy companies aren’t competing for these projects, that would cause consumers’ prices to go up.
“Even at our own homes, I’m sure we all seek out more than one bid for a project,” Mills said. “That’s how you know you’re going to try to get the best cost.”
The bill has to get a vote in the full Senate by Tuesday, or it dies.
We reached out to the author of House Bill 1420, State Rep. Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso), for this story. He did not respond to our request for an interview.