A Southwest Indiana lawmaker is intent on pushing electric utilities to use renewable energy sources such as wind and bio-mass. The question, though, is just how much prodding is politically feasible.
A panel of lawmakers Thursday considered a bill authored by state Rep. Dave Crooks, D-Washington, that would require the state’s investor-owned electric utilities to use at least 10 percent renewable energy by 2018.
Environmentalists and energy lobbyists debated whether economic and environmental interests could go hand-in-hand in the two-hour House Commerce and Utilities committee hearing.
Crooks, the committee’s chairman, did not bring House Bill 1102 to a vote, instead opting to wait a week in hopes of finding a way to round up enough votes to move the bill to the full House.
As lobbyists for environmental organizations and the wind power industry made their pitch, each described the bill as one that deals with the ethical implications involved in climate change, but one that also comes with economic benefits.
They alluded to caps on carbon emissions that the state or federal government might pass in the future.
“This is an ethical issue as much as it is an economic issue, and it’s just not right,” said Grant Smith, with the Citizens Action Coalition. “You have very strong utility influence; you have very strong coal (industry) influence. They’re entrenched, and that stranglehold over our economy has to be broken.”
If that legislation passes, those environmental and wind power lobbyists said, a head start on renewable energy now would mean that if those laws took effect, Indiana electric utilities wouldn’t have to purchase that renewable energy from other states.
But a lobbyist for Indiana’s five investor-owned electric utilities said a 10-percent renewable energy mandate by 2018 was too high. Ed Simcox said that while they did not favor a mandate, they would be able to live with 6 percent without forcing much of a bill hike on their customers.
The bill at 10 percent, Simcox said, would “subsidize wind power development through the rate-paying public in Indiana.”
Right now, Simcox said power from coal costs 3 to 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour, while wind power would cost 7 or 8 cents per kilowatt hour.
He called claims that the mandate would not cause a significant increase in energy bills “quite puzzling.”
State Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, asked if there were estimates as to how those prices would change in the future, when carbon sequestration technology might expand and become required by law, and when carbon caps might require electric utilities to look out of state for renewable energy sources.
“Folks, I truly believe that (with) the emission problem and the carbon caps that we’re going to have to be dealing with in future years if we continue to rely on coal,” Crooks said, “the costs are going to be a lot more than a windmill.”
Crooks said the committee will consider amendments and vote on House Bill 1102 on Jan. 24. Dvorak and state Rep. John Ulmer, R-Goshen, are the bill’s co-sponsors.
Neither Simcox nor any of the environmental and wind power lobbyists were able to answer that question.
By Eric Bradner
18 January 2008
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