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Power line legislation could impact utility rates

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Consumer advocates on Monday said a bill on the governor’s desk could lead to higher utility bills.

The legislation would allow utility companies to bid exclusively on power transmission line projects that go through their own territory rather than automatically opening up such projects to all utility companies, a practice known as right of first refusal. The policy is already in place for distribution lines, which connect homes and businesses to the grid.

The measure narrowly passed the legislature and drew bipartisan support, as well as bipartisan opposition in both chambers. Sen. Andy Zay, R-Huntington, who serves on the Senate Utilities Committee, says he felt the legislation amounted to the legislature putting its thumb on the scale of utility projects.

Zay says not allowing open bidding on transmission line projects would lead to more expensive projects, the costs of which would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher utility rates.

“We’ve been fighting costs very dramatically the last 12 months, now we’re going to have extreme costs in the transmission lines and the buildout of those transmission lines,” he said. “At the very least, I think we should try and do it in the most competitive and the most affordable fashion possible.”

Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, was among the bill’s House critics. He calls it an effort to get out in front of massive investments in the nation’s electrical grid.

“If this continues, a few people are going to get very rich, a lot of consumers are going to pay more and we’re going to have fewer transmission lines,” he said. “It’s a terrible bill. The governor should veto it.”

The bill’s backers say high utility bills are the very thing the bill seeks to prevent. Chris Ventura of the group Consumer Energy Alliance says allowing open market bidding on transmission line projects has led to construction delays ranging from months to years.

Ventura says delays that long allow inflation to take a toll. “A year and a half a go, you went to go buy a dozen eggs, maybe a buck fifty, today, (they cost) $3. So, you’re seeing significant cost increases on the construction side as the delays result,” he said.

Ventura says the bill still would allow contractors and subcontractors to bid on individual parts of a transmission line project, which would help to bring costs down.

Bill sponsor Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, turned down News 8’s request for an interview. Gov. Holcomb will have seven days to act on the bill once it is formally presented to him.