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Bill may hurt consumers, encourage nuclear power


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By Michelle Sokol




The Indiana General Assembly has named it the Clean Energy Bill, but others consider it a utility monopoly bill.

Regardless of the name, Senate Bill 251 passed the Indiana Senate Utilities and Technology Committee Feb. 10 and will soon make its way to the Senate for consideration.

The bill was introduced to encourage the construction of coal-fired and nuclear power plants in Indiana. It would allow companies to get back money previously spent on new energy or nuclear energy production or generating facilities.

Although the bill passed 6-2 in committee, major opposition was present in the form of more than a dozen organizations that attended the meeting to protest the measure.
Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, a consumer group with more than 40,000 members, has called for the immediate withdrawal of the bill.

According to the CAC, the legislation would eliminate protections for electricity consumers. This would provide monopoly electric utilities companies the means for unlimited profits.

“Ultimately, Senate Bill 251 will lead to prohibitively expensive and confiscatory electric rates in the state,” said Kerwin Olson, program director for the CAC. “It represents the proverbial blank check to Indiana’s monopoly electric utility
companies.”

While the CAC is more concerned about the economic impact on Indiana citizens, IU sophomore Lauren Kastner said environmental issues are also at stake. Kastner is the president of Coal Free IU and said the bill is far from green.

“I know it’s not a good thing because it includes dirty energy like ‘clean’ coal, nuclear and natural gas in its definition of renewable energy,” Kastner said. “It also creates financial incentives for utilities to invest in renewable energy projects under this definition and they can start charging ratepayers for the costs before the projects have even been installed.”

The CAC said the bill would essentially shift the risk to the ratepayers for projects that Wall Street has traditionally refused to finance. Many of these projects pose a high risk for small returns.

Kastner said Duke Energy’s newest project, a coal gasification plant in Edwardsport, Ind., is a good example of the type of risks Indiana consumers can expect if the bill should pass.

The Edwardsport plant was estimated to cost $1.6 billion in 2006, but the projected price tag has reached $2.9 billion.

A press release distributed by the CAC said ratepayers would be responsible for such risky investments even if they never produce a single kilowatt hour of electricity.

But one of the bill’s authors, Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, said she thinks legislative action is necessary in order for utility companies to continue to provide electricity to a growing Indiana population.

“You want power. It’s not going to fall out of the sky for free,” Gard said.

A Nuclear History

1789
Uranium is discovered by Martin Klaproth, a German chemist.

1902
Ernest Rutherford shows that radioactivity as a spontaneous event emitting an alpha or beta particle from the nucleus creates a different element.

1895 to 1945

The science of atomic radiation, atomic change and nuclear fission is developed. Most of the development occurred in the last six years of the period.

1939 to 1945

Most of the development is focused on the atomic bomb.

1945
Focus shifts to using nuclear energy for naval propulsion and electricity.

1956
The creation of reliable nuclear power plants becomes the prime focus.

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