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Indiana senator seeks gas plant contract review

January 24, 2013

Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long said Thursday the state needs to review its plans to buy synthesized natural gas from a $2.8 billion plant slated for construction in Rockport.

The Fort Wayne Republican said "the world has changed" since lawmakers first approved a plan that guarantees Indiana Gasification LLC has a buyer for its product over the next 30 years — a prospect that looked good a few years ago when natural gas prices were high but has caused some lawmakers to second-guess that deal with an infusion of new gas on the market because of increased fracking.

"Obviously, just the fact the world has changed since this idea came into being requires us to take another look at it," Long said, calling for either the regulators on the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission or state lawmakers to review the deal.

He stopped short of saying it should be revoked.

"I'm not willing to say that just yet, but I think we all have questions given the price of natural gas is so much lower now due to the fracking and everything 's that's going on around the country," he said. "What looked like it had a real potential when the price of gas was so much higher, now we have to bring the question whether it makes sense."

The statements from Long and others seeking to review the deal has placed Indiana Gasification on the defensive in a continuing battle with the southern Indiana utility Vectren, which has argued the project would cost Indiana ratepayers more than $1 billion because of a spike in rates from the more expensive synthetic natural gas.

"If the Legislature has read the IURC order, which covers shale gas comprehensively, and feels there is a reason to renege on the process they established, it will be viewed as a very negative sign," said Indiana Gasification project manager Mark Lubbers, referring to the IURC's prior approval of the deal. The state's Court of Appeals overturned that approval last year, sending the issue back to the Legislature and the IURC.

"We have trusted that the state was good for their word," Lubber said. "This isn't a game; we would be investing $750 million of our money and borrowing another $1.9 billion we will be obligated to repay. We regarded Indiana as a stable committed partner. Being so easily frightened into second guessing is not the kind of thing you want to see when you are investing nearly $3 billion."

Sen. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown, has introduced legislation that would restructure a 30-year contract agreed to between the Indiana Finance Authority and Indiana Gasification. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Thursday he supports reviewing the deal.

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