By Whitney Downard
INDIANAPOLIS — Consumer advocacy organizations are pushing back against ten Indiana utilities that have asked to charge consumers for revenue losses related to the coronavirus crisis.
The gas and electric utilities filed a joint petition Friday with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, citing increased costs and lost revenue during the crisis.
Utilities filing the petition include Duke Energy Indiana, with 840,000 customers; Indianapolis Power & Light Company, with more than 500,000 customers; Indiana Michigan Power Company, with nearly 600,000 customers in Indiana; Northern Indiana Public Service Co., with more than 475,000 customers; Vectren, with 112,000 customers in the state, and Indiana Gas Company, 588,000 customers.
The petition didn’t specify how much revenue each had lost, calling the impact “significant.” The filing asks to recover costs related to lower consumption, which could potentially raise rates for consumers.
“In other words, the investor-owned utilities want to charge consumers for the energy they did not sell,” Citizens Action Coalition, a consumer advocacy group, said in an online statement.
The group called on Gov. Eric Holcomb to extend a moratorium on utility shutoffs and create a Utility Affordability Task Force.
An executive order from Holcomb suspended utility shutoffs from March 19 until June 4, but consumers will still have an obligation to pay those bills eventually. Because of the order, utilities do not have leverage to collect immediately on those debts.
“This action is yet another example of the utilities placing profit over people,” Kerwin Olson, the Citizens Action Coalition’s executive director, said of the petition. “What Indiana should be doing is protecting Hoosier consumers by extending the shut-off moratorium and putting in place a freeze on rate increases until this economic and health crisis has ended.”
Many utility customers, including businesses and schools, have shut down in response to the pandemic. Others have shifted work away from their facilities, following government orders to shelter in place. Both actions, according to the utilities, have diminished their revenue.
The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counsel, the state agency representing consumer interests before the utility regulatory commission, has asked the commission to investigate how utilities would handle overdue accounts and the impact of the coronavirus crisis on utilities.
The consumer counsel also asked to extend the moratorium on utility shutoffs beyond June 4 and waive most associated fees, underscoring the hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers who’ve lost jobs in recent weeks.
The regulatory commission doesn’t oversee all municipal water, sewer or electric utilities or rural electric membership cooperatives.
Smaller gas utilities that are filing include Indiana Natural Gas Corp., with 8,000 customers; Midwest Natural Gas Corp., with 14,500 customers; Ohio Valley Gas Corp. and Ohio Valley Gay, Inc., with 28,800 customers; and Sycamore Gas Company, with 6,500 customers.
The regulatory commission will decide whether to approve any rate increases after considering a detailed report from utilities about revenue losses and cost increases during the coronavirus crisis.