Citizens Energy Group announced Wednesday that it wants to acquire a small, little-known political subdivision in Marion County that was months away from starting construction of its own wastewater treatment plant to avoid Citizens’ rate hikes.
In an April 21 letter to the Ben Davis Conservancy District’s board of directors, Citizens proposed two potential plans: a one-time $10 million asset purchase with proceeds distributed to district property owners or a gradual $15 million acquisition paid directly to residents through an estimated $22.50 monthly credit over 15 years. The southwest-side district is owned by its homeowners.
“Both options for acquiring the Ben Davis Conservancy District assets would provide affordable service and other significant benefits to current Ben Davis customers,” said Jeff Willman, vice president of water operations for Citizens, in a written statement.
The Ben Davis Conservancy District did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
In a press release, Citizens said the deal would end the district’s bid to build a wastewater treatment plant in West Indianapolis, a plan that elicited fierce pushback from some of the neighborhood’s residents, and result in affordable rates, free home inspections, a low-income help program and other benefits.
“We’re motivated, as we always are, [by] just trying to do what we think is the right thing for the customer,” Citizens spokesman Dan Considine told IBJ. “As we looked at this, as our letters indicate, we think we have found—presented—a couple of options that will be more affordable to Ben Davis customers and provide more effective service than the … wastewater treatment plant.”
The district owns its own pipes underground, but doesn’t have a way to treat the wastewater, so it contracts with Citizens for treatment. The district’s contracted engineering firm, Triad Associates, has estimated that its bill from Citizens would reach $3.5 million by 2026, up from $575,000 in 2018. Citizens, meanwhile, projects the bill would be $2.7 million by 2026, based on declining flows.
The district’s proposed plant was intended to circumvent the rate increases.
Citizens said the average customer under the second option would pay a monthly bill of $30.50 per month following the estimated $22.50 credit.
But Considine said Citizens thought the new plant would be more expensive to build and operate than the district’s estimates, and thereby be less cost-effective.
Considine said Citizens had been in discussions with district board chair Fred Buckingham for about a month, but that the timeline moving forward depended on the board.
“We continue to communicate with Ben Davis and hope they’ll consider our offers and [we’ll] reach an agreement that benefits the customers,” Considine said.
Corrrection: A previous version of this story contained an incorrect figure for the amount Triad Associates estimated that its bill from Citizens would reach by 2026. The correct amount is $3.5 million.