Three utility-related bills pass the Indiana House

Three bills sponsored by Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, could soon move to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk for consideration after passing the Indiana House on Monday.

Two of the bills–one establishing utility receiverships and another increasing the cap on pay that trustees on utility boards can earn–received no opposition, passing with a unanimous vote.

Bipartisan support for receiverships, utility boards

The first, Senate Bill 114, follows a high-profile case in Indiana, where an out-of-state landlord collected utility payments from tenants but never paid the utility company itself.

“(They) ran up a multi-million dollar bill to the point that the utility was going to have to shut off the water supply, ” Soliday said.

Now, if an entity tarries for more than 60 days, those utility payments will go into a specially designated receivership which will pay the bill.

“People were paying on time, faithfully every single month… and getting a shutoff notice,” said Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis. “This is something that could happen to other communities across the state.”

Another, Senate Bill 374, increases the maximum pay a trustee serving on a regional water, sewage or solid waste district can receive from $50 to $150 per day. Soliday and Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said that boards had difficulty recruiting trustees with such low pay but, as a “may” provision, doesn’t mandate that local units increase their pay.

Opposition to small modular nuclear reactors

Soliday said the state couldn’t reach its goals for reducing carbon without small modular nuclear reactors, legislation which passed the General Assembly last year and was again emphasized as an option in a summer study committee.

“They’ve been around for a long time in our nuclear submarines and nuclear air carriers,” Soliday said. “This doesn’t change any policy.”

Rather, Senate Bill 176 increases the threshold for “small” reactors from 350 megawatts to 470 megawatts, explicitly because an Indiana company with ties to a proposed United Kingdom facility said they’d be building 450 megawatt facilities.

But Pierce criticized the bill, saying its language put the risk of the unproven technology on the shoulders of shareholders.

“There’s some promising technology… but the truth is, it hasn’t worked yet,” Pierce said. “The ratepayers continue to pay for that (facility) even if it’s not giving them one kilowatt of electricity.”

A 470 megawatt facility would cost $2.34 billion alone and the legislation opens to the door to bigger, much riskier nuclear energy facilities, Pierce said. Additionally, national and federal standards already defined a small reactor as one generating up to 300 megawatts of energy.

The increase to 470 megawatts simply reflected Indiana’s desire to become a manufacturing hub for these facilities, he said.

Soliday pushed back, that the regulating agency had implemented accountability measures, especially since the shortfall at Duke Energy’s Edwardsport power plant, which put shareholders on the hook for more than $2.6 billion.

“All we’re trying to do is look at the technology that’s out there and that little part that the state will control,” Soliday said. “Let us be open for business.”

The bill passed 70-21. The Senate will still need to sign off on changes made in the measure.

The legislation without amendments, both Senate Bills 114 and 374, head straight to Holcomb.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.

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