Customer Bill of Rights

Public Accountability of Indiana Utility Regulators

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is comprised of five commissioners and all of them are appointed by the Governor. Their role is to ensure that rates are just and reasonable and that the utility earns a fair profit that is not excessive. Indiana is one of only three states where regulators are appointed by the Governor with NO oversight by either the public or the legislative branch.  (The others are New Hampshire and Nevada.) All the other states either have an appointment process by which one or both legislative bodies confirms the appointed candidates, or the members of the utility regulatory commission are elected by voters. Indiana state law should allow the public to elect the Indiana Utility Regulators.  At a minimum, the law should require that IURC nominees are publicly vetted by the General Assembly and given a public up or down vote.

 

Direct Election of the Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor 

The Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the Governor. They oversee the Office of the Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC).  The OUCC’s mission is, “To represent all Indiana consumers to ensure quality, reliable utility services at the most reasonable prices possible…” It only makes sense that the individual that heads the agency charged with representing the public should actually be elected by the public. The Utility Consumer Counselor should be elected by and serve at the pleasure of the public, NOT appointed by the Governor. 

 

Repeal Anti-Consumer Legislation and Related Trackers

Indiana’s investor-owned monopoly electric and gas utilities have pursued a strategy that:

  • allows them to recover costs from ratepayers as quickly and automatically as possible; 
  • reduces or eliminates regulatory oversight of planning, revenue, and profits; 
  • creates new incentives on top of their base rates to increase their profits; 
  • avoids and delays filing base rate cases at the IURC where they must open their books for public scrutiny.

 

The utilities have accomplished these goals by convincing the Indiana General Assembly (IGA) to pass laws which:

  • eliminate or reduce the discretion and flexibility of the IURC
  • impose trackers (aka riders) on your monthly bills. Trackers allow the utilities to raise your rates when their costs go up in some areas without having to also reduce rates when their costs have gone down in other areas.

 

Many bills of note have been passed by the IGA in the last two decades that have enabled trackers and should be repealed. These laws are:

  • eroding the financial health of Hoosiers
  • impeding investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy
  • harming vulnerable low and fixed income Hoosiers who can least afford these frequent and significant increases in monthly bills.

 

Guarantee Universal Service FOR ALL

Utility services, including electricity, heat, water, telecommunications, and internet access are essential to health, safety, and daily life. The fundamental need for uninterrupted utility service was evident before the coronavirus pandemic, but the COVID-19 public health emergency reinforced both the essential nature of utility service and the problem of energy and water insecurity or energy and water poverty. All Hoosiers, regardless of their means, should have access to these vital utility services.

 

A small public purpose charge, collected from all utility customers, would provide badly needed funding for bill assistance and weatherization for low-income households. It would provide additional funding to support the build-out of broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved communities. It could also be used to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy at public schools and other taxpayer funded properties. Indiana customers already pay the "Utility Receipts Tax" on all utility bills, but that money is dumped into the State’s general fund. We should rename the "Utility Receipts Tax" the "Indiana Public Purpose Charge" and earmark those funds for the benefit of utility customers. 

 

 

For more background about what a Customer Bill of Rights should look like, check out this PDF: https://www.citact.org/sites/default/files/IB_Utility_Bill_of_Rights.pdf

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