Hoosier consumer advocates ask feds to probe regional energy operator

The control room at MISO in Carmel is the nerve center for the power grid across 15 states and the Canadian province of Manitoba. (Photo courtesy of MISO)

An Indianapolis-based ratepayer protection group has asked federal regulators to audit spending by a Carmel-based energy transmission system operator for an annual meeting at luxury resort 600 miles beyond its service territory.

In a letter dated November 18—and publicized Monday—Citizens Action Coalition also asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to deny any attempts by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator to recover any meeting-related costs.

The system operator’s territory includes much of the Midwest, along with some southern states and parts of Canada. Geographically, it’s the world’s largest such system operator, according to Thomson Reuters.

But it’s holding an annual board of directors meeting nearly 600 miles outside its service territory, at a Ritz Carlton in Orlando, Florida. The meeting began Monday and will extend through Thursday. It’ll include an election for the board.

“We are outraged that Hoosier families already struggling to heat and power their homes this winter will be asked to pay for executive trips to luxury Florida resorts,” said Coalition Executive Director Kerwin Olson in a news release Monday.

The Midcontinent Independent System Operator’s 2019 service territory includes part or all of 15 U.S. states: Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin. It also includes one Canadian province, Manitoba.

The system operator recovers its expenses, like those of its meetings, from ratepayers. In Indiana, that includes customers of AES Indiana, CenterPoint Energy, Duke Energy Indiana and the Northern Indiana Public Service Company—better known as NIPSCO.

Olson’s coalition criticized the system operator for holding the meeting “hundreds of miles away from its stakeholders and ratepayers at a luxury resort.”

The hotel’s website describes it as a “luxury resort” featuring a “championship-level golf course,” a 40,000 square foot spa, three pools, fine dining, and multiple tennis courts

It then accused the system operator of violating federal requirements that all rates and charges related to transmitting or selling energy be “just and reasonable”—and same for the rules and regulations shaping those dues.

The coalition also blasted the system operator for not providing contact information for the board online, writing that the board is “completely inaccessible to the public and stakeholders.”

A federal commission spokesperson said the agency had no comment on the accusations, calling it a “pending matter” in an email to the Capital Chronicle.

An Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission spokesperson said staff “monitors and participates” in the system operator’s stakeholder processes, but that it’s “a separate entity that determines where to hold its annual meeting.”

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