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Indiana House amends bill to end efficiency program

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The Indiana House amended a bill targeting the state's energy-efficiency program Tuesday with a provision that would effectively end the program by the end of this year.

The House voted 66-30 to amend the bill on second reading with language that prohibits the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission from extending or entering into contracts for Energizing Indiana's statewide energy efficiency program after Dec. 31, 2014.

Energizing Indiana, which is financed through a fee ratepayers pay on their monthly electricity bills, offers home assessments, low-income home weatherizations and other cost-cutting efforts the program's website says has saved enough energy in the past two years to power nearly 78,000 Indiana homes.

Rep. Heath VanNatter, R-Kokomo, said he co-sponsored the amendment to end the program because as the bill advanced, testimony proved to him that it's "very costly" and doesn't provide enough benefits for Indiana's electric ratepayers.

The original bill called for allowing industries that use one megawatt or more of electricity to pull out of the program. State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, has said he sponsored the measure because only about 17 percent of Indiana's industries that have paid into the program have actually taken part in any of its energy-efficiency offerings.

VanNatter said the program's original cost was about $2 billion, but it would have cost hundreds of millions of more dollars more in the years ahead.

"The whole point of this was to avoid building another power plant because they're costly to build, but we could build a new power plant with what we've spent on this program," he said. "My opinion was that it wasn't paying for itself and I just feel like we need to take a pause."

Energizing Indiana began under Gov. Mitch Daniels through a December 2009 administrative order put into motion by the IURC in conjunction with the state's electric utilities and other entities.

The Sierra Club's Indiana Chapter decried the House's move, saying that if the amended bill passes the Legislature it would deliver a setback to efforts to make Indiana more energy efficient and reduce the need for new power plants.

Jodi Perras, the director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Indiana, said Indiana had one of the nation's worst state energy-efficiency programs before Energizing Indiana began.

If the amended bill becomes law, Perras said it "will roll back a proven winner," cost energy-efficiency workers their jobs and threaten Hoosiers with higher electric bills.

"We need to move forward with Indiana's energy policy, not backward. This is a huge disappointment and will cost all ratepayers more in the long run," she said.

VanNatter said the bill still contains a provision calling for the IURC to study the state's energy-efficiency programs and to report its findings back to the Legislature this summer.

The amended bill is eligible for third reading and a vote in the House on Wednesday. If the bill passes, it would return to the Senate for consideration.

Over the weekend, the Sierra Club's Indiana chapter launched an online ad campaign targeting ZIP codes in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne calling on Indiana residents to urge their lawmakers to vote against the bill. The banner ads paid for by the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign have so far reached about 1.5 million people through Facebook and various websites, Perras said.

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