Following the lead of the House last week, the Indiana Senate on Monday voted 37-8 to end the state’s popular Energizing Indiana program, which will now head to Gov. Mike Pence for consideration.
The Energizing Indiana Program launched two years ago by former governor Mitch Daniels charges utility customers a small monthly fee on their energy bill — the average household pays $2/month — and the money is used to conduct energy audits, weatherization programs and rebates on energy-saving appliances. The program’s website says it’s saved enough energy in the past two years to power nearly 78,000 homes in Indiana.
The original Senate bill, later amended by the House, was designed to allow industries that use 1 megawatt or more of electricity per month to opt out of the Energizing Indiana program, which they claimed was proving a financial burden and not offering useful benefits.
The House amendment added a measure that would effectively end the program altogether by prohibiting the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission from extending or entering into new contracts for the program after Dec. 31, 2014.
The future of the program, now in the governor’s hands, is uncertain.
“The governor recognizes the important role energy efficiency has to play in Indiana’s energy portfolio,” Kara Brooks, the governor’s spokeswoman told the Indianapolis Star. ““SB 340 proposes a departure from Indiana’s current program, and the governor is carefully weighing whether this is best for Indiana.”
Twenty-six states currently require utilities to offer programs that reduce energy use.
The possible dismantling of Indiana’s energy-efficiency programs has alarmed environmental and consumer groups as well as businesses.
A coalition of energy-related businesses — including General Electric, Honeywell, and Johnson Controls — sent a letter to lawmakers and Gov. Pence last week in support of the program.
“Reductions in industrial manufacturers’ energy use through energy efficiency programs should be encouraged by everyone,” the letter said. “These programs cut waste and are a fiscally responsible way to address the state’s energy needs.”
Ending the program would also directly put 400 people out of work and probably result in the loss of 1,200 indirect jobs.
Critics of the program say it has cost $500 million to date — a price tag its supporters point out is mere change in comparison to the billions that a new power plant would cost rate-payers, if energy consumption doesn’t drop.