Bill addressing utility territory disputes heads for governor’s desk

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A bill that gives rural electric cooperatives and investor-owned utilities more leverage in territory disputes is headed for the desk of Gov. Mike Pence.

The Indiana House passed Senate Bill 309 on March 30 on a 71-20 vote. The bill, authored by Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, addresses the complaint that municipal-owned utilities are taking valuable territory.

The bill eliminates the municipal utilities’ authority in that arena. All Indiana utilities have exclusive service territories, but they can swap areas by mutual agreement. Municipal utilities are exempt from the mutual-agreement requirement if a city or town is annexing the land. In that case, the municipality has to compensate the losing utility.

The disputed areas often involve commercial land at interstate exchanges, which would likely be the site used by a large energy user.

Opponents of the bill complained that another Hancock County lawmaker, Republican Rep. Bob Cherry, had a conflict of interest because he is employed by the Indiana Farm Bureau, which sided with rural electric cooperatives on the issue. Cherry’s brother James Cherry sits on the board of Ninestar, a rural co-op.

Cherry said he sought an opinion from the House Ethics Committee before he cast his final vote in favor of the bill, and his colleagues ruled that he did not have a conflicting interest.•

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