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Pence allows Ind. energy program to die under bill

Posted at 8:56 PM, Mar 27, 2014

Gov. Mike Pence will allow Indiana's fledging statewide energy-efficiency program to end, saying Thursday night he will propose an alternative program for lawmakers to consider next year.

The Republican governor said he would allow a bill ending the Energizing Indiana program to become law without his signature because he wasn't entirely satisfied with the current program, but also disappointed that lawmakers killed it without offering a replacement.

"I could not sign this bill because it does away with a worthwhile energy efficiency program. I could not veto this bill because doing so would increase the cost of utilities for Hoosier ratepayers and make Indiana less competitive by denying relief to large electricity consumers," Pence said in a written statement.

Pence said he was directing the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to immediately begin developing recommendations for a new energy-efficiency program that would include an opt-out for large electricity consumers. He said he would bring such legislation to the General Assembly in 2015.

Environmentalists, consumer groups and companies that make energy-saving products had urged Pence to veto the measure, saying it would end the program just as it was seeing successes in helping homeowners and businesses cut their electricity use.

Kerwin Olson, executive director of the consumer watchdog Citizens Action Coalition, issued a statement saying Pence's lack of action "will lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary rate increases in the coming years" because of growing demand for electricity.

Jodi Perras, the Indiana representative for Sierra Club' Beyond Coal Campaign, said the decision "makes Indiana the first state in the nation to roll back its energy savings goals" and that the program had created jobs, reduced energy costs and made homes and businesses more energy efficient."

But Indiana's manufacturing and utility interests had argued that the program, financed through a fee that utility customers pay on their monthly electricity bills, had proven too costly and industrial users were seeing few benefits.

Energizing Indiana provides home energy assessments, low-income home weatherizations and other cost-cutting efforts, including rebates on electricity saving products. The program, which began in January 2012, has saved enough energy in the past two years to power nearly 79,000 Indiana homes, according to Energizing Indiana's website.

The bill prohibits state regulators from extending or signing new contracts for the program after Dec. 31, 2014.