Indiana utility companies want to charge customers for revenue lost during COVID-19 pandemic

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s gas and electric companies are asking state regulators to allow them to recover lost revenue from customers due to the pandemic, but critics argue that it would burden struggling consumers even more.

Ten companies, including Indianapolis Power & Light Co. and Duke Energy Inc., filed the request Friday with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. They want to charge customers for all “bad debt expense incurred” associated with an executive order that has suspended disconnections for nonpayment through June 4.

The petition stated that the pandemic is causing “substantial adverse financial impact” on their business. But companies did not provide any actual figures regarding loss in revenue or how much customer’s bills would increase if approved.

Building closures across the state has caused an overall downturn in energy use thus putting a financial strain on energy companies, the petitioners said.

Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, a consumer group, called the request “unprecedented utility greed.”

“It is disgusting that during these unprecedented times, they are more concerned with quarterly stock reports than with the health, safety and well-being of the Hoosier communities and consumers which they serve,” Kerwin Olson said in a written response. He is the organization’s executive director.

Essentially, utilities want to charge customers for energy that they did not sell, Olson added.

The Indiana Energy Association, a trade group that represents utilities, said the petition seeks to defer the fixed-cost portion of energy production “that enables companies to have power available around the clock.”

The association also cited that at least 29 other states have approved similar regulations to what Indiana utilities are seeking.

If approved, utility companies will have to track coronavirus related costs and make plans on how to recover their losses, which could include charging customers over time. Customers would not be impacted immediately.

A commission spokesperson said they could not comment on pending cases.

The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor announced Monday it is asking the state to investigate how companies will handle the pandemic’s impact on utility rates, services, and overdue utility accounts. The agency also wants the state to extend the suspension of utility disconnections and waive all deposits and fees.

“This extraordinary and unprecedented situation calls for new protections to ensure that all Hoosiers have access to essential services, especially consumers who are suffering loss of income through no fault of their own,” Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor Bill Fine said.

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