Bills on state energy policy, floodplains and TANF advance
With the first half of session over, see what debates dominated. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)
A flurry of bills have passed their respective chambers, kickstarting the process for that bill on the other side of the Statehouse. The following bills still have a long path ahead of them but passed a major hurdle on Monday.
House approves new state energy plan
The Indiana House on Monday approved a new state energy policy, in a proposal that also halves the energy utilities can buy on the market and tasks the state utility regulator with production of a new ratemaking study.
House Bill 1007 – one of the Republican caucus’ priority bills – sets forth a five-pillar energy policy. Any decisions about Indiana’s energy generation mix, infrastructure and ratemaking would have to be based off reliability, affordability, resiliency, stability and environmental sustainability.
During the arctic blast that struck just before Christmas, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator – whose territory covers all except northeast Indiana – declared a level 2 energy generation emergency. Bill author and utilities committee chair Sen. Ed Solliday said that’s what he wants to avoid in the future.
“[At] level one, they tell all the energy producers to turn on everything they’ve got. [At] level two, they tell the industrials [to] start reducing load,” Solliday said on the House floor. “[At] level three they call you. And [they] say reduce your thermostat to 55 degrees. Don’t use your toaster, don’t use your TV.”
“We don’t want to do that,” Soliday concluded.
His bill would also slash the percentage of capacity that regulated utilities can buy – from 30% to 15% – under statute. Before lawmakers introduced “reliability adequacy metrics” in 2021, public utilities assembled their portfolios themselves.
It would also task the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission with examining performance-based ratemaking, as opposed to the state’s current cost-of-service system.
The Republican-dominated House passed the bill 96-1, with only renewable energy advocate Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, voting against. But even supportive Democrats said it didn’t go as far as they wanted.
Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said he wanted lawmakers to add some more focus on affordability for residents – rather than businesses – more emphasis on renewables, and more legal space for small-scale electricity generation.
Earlier this month, the Indiana Supreme Court decided a key solar power case in favor of a southern Indiana utility, ending some subsidies for small panel owners but taking pressure off ratepayers who don’t own panels.
The bill now moves to the Senate for further consideration.
Floodplains, TANF increase bills move in Senate
Lawmakers on Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would repeal a requirement for local administrators to use the latest statewide floodplain maps when deciding new construction projects.
Authored by Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, the measure seeks to nix a provision in current state law that requires floodplain administrators to use the “best floodplain mapping data available” when reviewing an application for a construction permit in or near a floodplain. That means outdated federal floodplain maps would be used by administrators, rather than the new, more comprehensive maps adopted by by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Leising said the rule contributed to “… the devaluing of property because state floodplain maps are more stringent than the federal (ones).”
The bill passed on a 40-5 vote and now heads for the House.
The full Senate also approved the first TANF increase in over 30 years – for the third time in the last five years.
Sen. Jon Ford, the bill author, said the bill would expand eligibility for Hoosier families, who currently must make less than $307 per month to qualify (for a family of three). Under his bill, that amount would more than double – to $950 per month.
“Over the past five years, we’ve averaged more than $50 million in unobligated (TANF block grant) funds… with a high in 2017 of $109 million,” Ford, R-Terre Haute, said. “This will cost us an estimated $10 million annually… and there’s plenty of money left in the block grant.”
The bill passed unanimously, with 45 votes, and no moves to the House. A House committee passed a similar bill last week but the real challenge will be the Ways and Means committee, which has repeatedly blocked the bill under former leadership.
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