Indianapolis Power & Light analyzed bills of customers that spoke out against its more than $88 million proposed rate increase — some say in an attempt to make them look bad.
According to the analysis, people who commented on IPL’s rate case tend to be higher income and use less electricity — which means their bills would be lower under the new rate plan. The utility says those residents would see an incremental increase of about $0.13 per customer per month, compared to the current plan which would be about $0.65 per month.
IPL’s analysis also showed most of those customers commented through forms from the Citizens Action Coalition and the Sierra Club. But Anthony Swinger, spokesman for the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, says that shouldn’t matter — all consumer comments need to be treated seriously.
“When you have a party attempting to discredit the views of customers who have spoken out in a public forum, that’s not helpful to the process and its just simply bad policy,” he says.
Swinger says he hasn't seen a utility do this in his nearly 18 years with the office.
Wendy Bredhold is the senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Indiana. She says its her organization's job to inform the public about IPL's proposed plan. Bredhold addressed accusations that residents were only speaking on activist groups such the Sierra Club's behalf:
"I think that's an insult to their customers and the ones who actually had the luxury of time and transportation to attend the hearings and speak out," says Bredhold. "I heard a lot of people express geniune concern about their rates. They spoke from the heart about the hardship that they already have in terms of paying their bills, or on behalf of the people they represent in terms of people who work in ministry or at nonprofit organizations."
IPL Director of External Affairs Fred Mills says the company wanted to know where these customers were coming from.
“To better understand how the proposed rate plan would affect our concerned customers,” he says.
IPL did not respond to the OUCC's comments on the analysis. Mills says the company has reached an agreement with the involved parties on a number of issues and expects to present it to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission this week.
IPL had originally proposed a rate increase of $124 million, but reduced the request to $96 million and later to $88 million.
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story was missing context surrounding Wendy Bredhold's quote. For the purposes of clarity and accuracy, that context has been added.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.