Utility regulatory openings generate heavy interest

Two openings on the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission have generated a high level of interest in the job of refereeing complicated rate cases.

The nominating committee charged with choosing six names to forward to Gov. Mike Pence added a second day of interviews in order to hear from 21 candidates. The interviews are Jan. 30 and 31, and Pence is expected to make the appointments to the five-member panel soon afterward.

“This is an agency dealing with billions and billions of dollars,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Indianapolis-based Citizens Action Coalition, which advocates for consumers in energy and utility issues. “The role of this agency cannot be understated.” He noted that utility billings in Indiana total $14 billion, which is on par with the entire state budget.

The commissioners work full time and are paid about $105,000 a year. The current openings were left by member Kari Bennett, who accepted a job at Carmel-based grid operator MISO, and Larry Landis, who is retiring.

Remaining commissioners are Carolene Mays, James Atterholt and David Ziegner.

Although Citizens Action Coalition has criticized the IURC nominating process in the past as a “dog-and-pony show” allowing the governor to pick commissioners who will support the state's energy plan and protect utility profits, Olson said he's encouraged this time by the number of candidates and their qualifications.

Win Moses, a former Democratic lawmaker and the CAC's founding president, is a member of the nominating committee, and turned to Facebook earlier this month to encourage citizens to apply for one of the openings.

“I'm trying to find people that when they get in there have a sense of justice and fairness,” Moses said.

Ultimately, most of the candidates have a background in utilities or energy, though not all have direct ties to utility companies, Moses said. Among the candidates are some of the IURC's current staff, including analyst Marcus Turner, who is also president of the Avon Town Council, and retired Republican lawmaker David Yount from Columbus.

Indianapolis resident Bill Malcolm, a former staff member at MISO, also made it to the interview stage. He said he wants to help the IURC address challenges such as the rising cost of electricity for industrial ratepayers, a trend that could threaten Indiana's ability to attract big industrial employers.

Although past IURC Chairman David Lott Hardy was fired by former Gov. Mitch Daniels for his ethics breaches, Malcolm said he takes exception to CAC's assertion that the commission is too close to the utility companies.

“They're being pulled by utilities as well as the industrials. They're pulled by the CAC,” he said.

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