- Associated Press - Saturday, May 9, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana regulators have rejected rate increases two of the state’s largest electric utilities had sought to fund the costs of planned upgrades to their aging electrical grids.

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission on Friday denied Duke Energy’s nearly $2 billion plan and a similar request by Indiana Michigan Power, which wanted to pass onto its ratepayers $787 million in costs for improving its electric infrastructure.

The IURC cited as reasoning in the two decisions that some elements of the utilities’ proposed projects did not meet statutory funding requirements.

Utility Consumer Counselor David Stippler, whose office opposed the requests, called the rulings “significant victories for consumers.”

“They also send a strong statement to utilities that when they seek higher rates, they must clearly justify their requests with sufficient cost support,” Stippler said.

If Duke Energy’s plan had been approved, its customers would have seen rates rise 1 percent per year, on average, from 2016 through 2022. The price tag for consumers would have been about $1.9 billion over that period.

Consumer advocates argued that Duke’s transmission and distribution system improvement plan went beyond what’s allowed by law, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported.

Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition, said the IURC’s decisions point to the need to repeal a 2013 law advocated for by utility companies that allows them to recover costs on an expedited basis.

“Duke thought they could cram through this expensive, unnecessary plan after they paid for the passage of this dangerous legislation,” he said.

Duke spokeswoman Angeline Protogere says the utility is still reviewing the IURC order but one option it might pursue is to file a revised plan and address issues the IURC raised. She said Duke’s “electric grid is aging” and many components need to be replaced and updated to take advantage of advanced technology that can, for example, pinpoint power outages and speed service restoration.

“Reliable energy depends on hundreds of miles of power lines moving electricity from place to place,” she said.

In a statement released Saturday, I&M; said it was disappointed by the IURC’s decision. The utility said it is still studying and weighing its options, the South Bend Tribune reported.

Paul Chodak III, I&M; president and chief operating officer, said the company’s upgrade plan for its aging infrastructure “met the requirements of the law, and (we) were surprised by the order since most of the plan was supported by the parties in the case.”

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