Friday, December 31, 2010

IURC Takes Utility Sale To The Community For Comment

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission has taken up the issue of Indianapolis' sale of the water and sewer utilities to Citizens Energy. Still pending a final decision by the IURC, is the older request for a 35% rate hike, the outcome of which will decide whether Citizens Energy pulls the plug on the deal itself.

Jon Murray, IndyStar reporter with the City Hall beat, has been doing an exceptional job covering the hearings conducted by the IURC on the utility deal (see "IURC begins hearing on proposed sale of utilities", "Public hearing set on Indianapolis' utilities sale", "Can city sell the IURC on utility deal?", and the latest, "Fee to sell utilities is focus of submissions"). His series illuminates a vigorous debate by consumer advocates and City officials before the IURC. The idea that the IURC could trim back or deny the sale is even in the air as a slim possibility.

Murray reported yesterday:
The ratepayer group, represented by Indianapolis attorney John Price, disputes the city's decision to pay Veolia to end its 20-year contract early. It argues there was ample cause to cancel the contract without payment because of performance problems and other violations.

One possibility is highlighted in new testimony by Tom Plummer. The ratepayer group member and a longtime water utility operating supervisor repeats allegations that Veolia, formerly US Filter, falsified records to receive some incentive payments from the city.

"Several Indianapolis Water employees told me that they were asked by USFilter/Veolia personnel to alter records in order to make it appear that USFilter/Veolia had earned an incentive payment when in fact the unchanged records would not have supported the claim for the incentive payment," Plummer testified.

In 2005, federal authorities investigated similar allegations of falsified water records. No charges were filed.

The ratepayer group also objects to the utilities transfer based on deep cuts to nonunion employees' benefits -- despite city leaders' assurances at the time -- after the city bought the water utility in 2002. A lawsuit filed by employees about the same issue failed several years ago.

The IURC has announce a field hearing for next week, and the Office of Consumer Counselor, which represents the interests of ratepayers before the IURC, will take comments through their website and via fax. Again, from an earlier Murray report:

On Jan. 5, the IURC will have the public hearing at Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School, according to a news release today from the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor.

An information session will begin at 5:30 p.m., and the public comment portion of the hearing will start at 6 p.m. The school is at 1140 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St.

The consumer counselor's office also is accepting comments via its website, Click "comment on a case." You can also send a fax to (317) 232-5923 or mail a comment to Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, PNC Center, 115 W. Washington St., Suite 1500 South, Indianapolis, IN 46204. Include the case number: 43936'

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