- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Environmental and citizens groups are warning that a bill advancing in the Indiana Legislature threatens to undermine a 2-year-old energy-efficiency program that’s seen successes in helping homeowners and businesses cut their energy use.

The bill passed the state Senate on a 37-11 vote Monday and headed to the House for consideration. The measure would allow Indiana industries that use one megawatt or more of electricity to pull out of Energizing Indiana, a program they currently help finance through a fee on their monthly electricity bills.

The Sierra Club, Citizens Action Coalition, Hoosier Environmental Council and other groups are urging the Indiana House to reject the legislation. The groups warn that if lawmakers approve the bill it would likely shift the program’s costs onto small businesses and families and threaten the roughly 400 jobs it’s helped create in the past two years.

Jodi Perras, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Indiana, said an independent auditor found Energizing Indiana’s commercial and industrial program was saving $3.19 for every $1 spent. If large industrial users are allowed to opt out, she said, the program’s administrative expenses and low-income weatherization efforts would suffer, “leaving the rest of us to pay the bills.”

“All ratepayers - including industries - must do their fair share to support the cost savings of energy efficiency programs,” Perras said in a statement.

Energizing Indiana began under Gov. Mitch Daniels through a December 2009 administrative order put into motion by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission in conjunction with the state’s electric utilities and other entities. Since 2012, it has saved enough energy to power nearly 74,000 Indiana homes, according to the program’s website.

Residential, commercial and industrial users are currently charged a fee on their electricity bills to finance the program’s energy-efficiency home assessments, low-income home weatherizations, energy-efficiency lighting discounts, and other measures that can lower overall energy use.

State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, said he sponsored the bill because he’s concerned about the financial impact the program is having on industries and efforts to lure new industry to the state. He said only about 17 percent of Indiana’s industries that have paid into the program through their utility bills have actually taken part in any of Energizing Indiana’s energy-efficiency offerings.

“They’re paying for programs that they don’t use. It’s like square peg, round hole. And I just didn’t feel like that’s fair and that it’s not a good economic development tool,” Merritt said.

His bill also directs the IURC to conduct an analysis of all energy-efficiency programs implemented under the state’s order and report back its findings to lawmakers by Aug. 15.

The Indiana Manufacturers Association supports the bill because it would allow Indiana to join Texas and other states that allow larger industrial customers to opt out of similar energy-efficiency programs, said Tim Rushenberg, the group’s vice president for governmental affairs and tax policy.

He said large industries typically hire managers to oversee their energy-efficiency efforts, while commercial businesses usually don’t have the resources to hire such managers.

“We don’t need a state-mandated program to tell us to pay into this expensive program and then tell us how to save energy. We already do that on our own,” Rushenberg said.

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