By Tim Jagielo, WNIN
Non-profit organization seeks answers for unclear bills, high gas rates and new plant
The 2022 Nehemiah Action event focused on several important social issues — but high utility costs of CenterPoint energy was the most controversial.
“We discovered that we now pay among the highest gas rates in the state, along with the highest electric rates. The result for families is devastating,” said Jane Leingang of CAJE, or Congregations Acting for Justice and Empowerment.
Her group including the Energy for All Coalition, wanted CenterPoint to come to Monday, May 9 meeting and make public commitments before the crowd of 500.
Demystifying energy bills, lowering gas prices and discarding plans for an expensive new plant were their main demands.
CenterPoint instead answered these questions via email. They had offered to meet with various members of CAJE in private on April 26, which CAJE declined, because they wanted this public forum.
Senator Jim Tomes had been working with CenterPoint leadership to get the two groups together.
He was surprised when the April 26th meeting didn’t happen.
“I was disappointed to hear that you didn’t get to meet with him because as a steward, I know sometimes I dealt with issues that were unpleasant, didn’t really want to do it,” he said. “But you know, it’s a job. It’s gotta be done. I wish you guys could have met with (them.)”
Tomes made commitments to work toward better access to solar power and continuing to work on lowering utility bills.
There is currently no meeting between CAJE and CenterPoint Energy planned.
In a news release, the utility company said: “We remain willing and open to meeting with representatives from the Energy for All Coalition and hope they will reconsider our invitation. CenterPoint Energy also plans to participate in the City of Evansville’s upcoming Access to Service Fairs later this month, the details of which will soon be shared by the City.”
CenterPoint and CAJE had met previously, though the non-profit wasn’t satisfied with the answers they received.
CAJE’s questions with CenterPoint answers:
1. Will you provide itemized bills for all CenterPoint customers beginning no later than 7/1/22?
CenterPoint Energy provides an itemized breakdown of the bill to any customer who requests a breakdown of the charges. Year-to-date, we have received fewer than 30 requests for an itemized billing statement.
Customers can access this information by calling CenterPoint Energy Customer Service at 1-800-227-1376 or requesting it online at CenterPointEnergy.com/itemizedbill. The details on how a customer may request an itemized breakdown of the bill is also included on each billing statement.
CenterPoint Energy’s customer bills comply with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) requirements. CenterPoint Energy continues to explore options for enhancing the customer experience, including evaluating providing additional detail to customer bills in the future.
2. Will you lower your rates to $.36/therm, the original rate you asked of the IURC in 2021?
The increase to base rates implemented at the end of 2021 was the first in 14 years and followed the completion of CenterPoint Energy’s 7-year modernization plan. These significant investments included critical infrastructure upgrades to continue to deliver safe, reliable natural gas service to our customers, meet the needs of the region’s economic growth, and comply with federal regulations.
CenterPoint Energy Indiana South (CEI South) proposed to implement its rate change to customers by assessing a fixed monthly rate charge for residential customers of $35 with a volumetric rate increase of $0.36/ therm. This structure helps make bills less volatile from month to month.
The Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC) advocated for a lower fixed charge and a higher volumetric charge in the rate case. CEI South and the OUCC agreed in a settlement to increase the volumetric charge and decrease the fixed charge, resulting in an increase to the volumetric distribution charge to $0.60/therm. This modification led to a larger portion of customers’ bills being dependent on the amount of natural gas used (or volumetric charge) than would have been realized if CenterPoint Energy’s initial request for a larger fixed charge had been approved.
Citizens Action Coalition (CAC) participated in this proceeding and did not oppose the settlement. CEI South cannot change this settlement agreement without the consent of the OUCC and other parties and would not agree to such a change without increasing the fixed charge to appropriately recover the costs
of serving customers.
3. Will you abandon your plan to build two unneeded and expensive gas fueled plants and pipelines in Southwestern Indiana?
CenterPoint Energy needs to include two new combustion turbines as part of a portfolio of resources to replace coal-fired generation that needs to be retired. A thorough review of our generation portfolio demonstrated customers will pay less over the next 20 years by replacing some of our coal generation facilities — requiring significant capital investments in the near term to comply with environmental
regulations — with new and more efficient technologies, such as renewable resources.
By replacing much of the coal-fired generation with significant renewables, including a large percentage of universal solar, we can achieve our goal of Net Zero carbon emissions by 2035 and save customers more than $320 million over a 20-year period, when compared to our current generation methods.
The combustion turbines will enable CenterPoint Energy to continue serving customers when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun isn’t shining and help protect customers from reliance on market volatility to ensure reliability. Traditionally, there has been an abundance of generating resources in the region to meet the expected load. However, as utilities continue to retire aging coal generators and transition to different generation sources, including renewables, the expected load continues to put downward
pressure on the reserve margin (amount of generating resources needed to maintain reliability).
Extensive research and analysis performed as part of the 2020/2021 Integrated Resource Plan, which included a request for proposals on potential energy generation options, demonstrated that including the two combustion turbines along with other portfolios promotes low price and price stability for our customers over the next 20 years. As we continue to invest in our long-term plan for powering southwestern Indiana, we will continue to identify opportunities to minimize the impact of these investments on customers’ bills. We remain committed to delivering a balanced, cleaner and reliable
energy mix, which will promote growth and vitality and best serve our region.