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Concerns raised over possible rate hike for electric cars

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The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor and Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, are both voicing concerns about a potential rate increase proposed by Indianapolis Power & Light that could help fund some of the start-up costs for the BlueIndy electric-car-sharing project.

The request for a 44-cent, per-month, per-customer increase was sent to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and would be used to fund the installation of 1,000 charging stations for BlueIndy cars and could also be used for public charging stations in Indianapolis.

The city of Indianapolis, IPL, and the Paris-based Bollore Group all joined each other in the creation of the BlueIndy project—a 100-percent electric car-sharing service .

IBJ reported June 28 that the IUCC was concerned about the rate hike setting a dangerous precedent. The Citizens Action Coalition also objected to the proposal.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard called the project unprecedented, and said electric vehicles and car-sharing are the future.

Marc Lotter—communications director for the city of Indianapolis—said the charging stations being provided are an “amenity” to the city. He said it eliminates the fear of not being able to get somewhere quickly that people often face when they depend on mass transit.

“By having these cars available through the BlueIndy system and car-share programs, that frees many people up to be able to take mass transit,” Lotter said.

Some believe there are too many questions and concerns to raise the costs for IPL ratepayers.

Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor David Stippler said unfunded portions of the project should not be imposed on the IPL ratepayers and other funding options should be explored to ensure the success of the BlueIndy project.

“We appreciate the hard work and effort of the city to develop the BlueIndy project and are aware that it may provide a number of tangible benefits to the community. However, we believe that the requested rate increase does not fall within the scope of relief allowed under state utility law,” Stippler said in a prepared statement.

Anthony Swinger, director of external affairs for the OUCC, said the commission doesn’t believe the rates should change because the request for an increase does not provide safe, reliable service for all customers.

“In this case it’s a legal issue. Our recommendation is based on the fact that this increase isn’t legal under state utility law,” Swinger said.

Pryor said she sees “a mountain of problems” with a rate increase, and said it sets a bad precedent and won’t help ratepayers.

The proposed rate increase would affect all IPL customers in the Indianapolis service districts, affecting Marion County and some surrounding counties.

“The city of Indianapolis is asking people outside of Marion County to pay for a product that is only going to be available in Marion County. That is taxation without representation,” Pryor said.

Pryor wrote a letter to the IURC asking them to oppose the proposed increase stating that IPL’s request met the “standard of greed” and that too many things were missing to justify an increase, including statistics showing how many ratepayers are interested in the program and the question of who controls the future increases on the IPL bill if the rate change did occur.

Lotter said there are misconceptions about IPL’s request and called the rate increase a backup plan. He said the city’s portion of the revenue would offset the cost of the investment.

“The IPL rate case is basically just a backup in case those revenues don’t cover the estimated cost of installing those charging stations,” Lotter said. “That’s one of the reasons why you’re not going to see this rate increase until a minimum of 2018 if necessary, a maximum of five years if necessary, and if not a single dollar is generated to offset the cost of this installation, you’re talking about 44 cents a month for the average home owner and that’s assuming that there’s no revenue to share, which obviously is a worst-case scenario.”

According to Pryor, a large portion of the people being asked to pay for the BlueIndy program won’t be able to use it.

“Someone needs to be looking out for the ratepayer. This is not the way to go,” Pryor said. “This is a hidden tax to provide corporate welfare to a corporation outside of the country. That is something that my constituents can’t afford.”

IPL and the city have until July 11 to file a written rebuttal. A hearing will take place on July 23 with the primary purpose of allowing each party’s attorneys the chance to cross-examine each other’s witnesses.

The commission will set dates for written closing arguments to be filed after the hearings. Swinger anticipates that a decision will be made by the end of the year.

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