CenterPoint Energy customers didn't hold back Wednesday night as they voiced their concerns over the utility's latest proposed rate increase.
The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) hosted the public hearing, opening the floor to customer testimony on the case.
"Electricity is a need, not a want," said one customer. "That's why the monopoly is required to be regulated. So, regulate."
"This is your job to regulate these organizations, some of the most corrupt that ever existed," another customer said.
If approved CenterPoint Energy's proposal could add about $23 to a typical customer's monthly bill. It would cover a new electric generation facility in Posey County that would include two natural gas-fired turbines totaling an estimated $323 million as well as two additional projects.
"We're struggling enough with food prices going up. They get you at the pump, you know, if they don't get you in the washer, they get you in the dryer, basically," Johnnie Pegues said with the homemade sign in her hands. "So, it's scary and I don't want to see it; it's going to be a struggle for me to pay it."
While many shared concerns over the financial burden the hike would bring to already struggling customers, it was a different burden that really got people talking.
Local environmental group Sierra Club is among several bodies intervening in the case and they said the project's environmental impact would only be a detriment.
"We think they should go back to the drawing board and look again at renewable energy and what those costs are now," Wendy Bredhold said, senior campaign representative for the group's Beyond Coal initiative. "They'll have more current costs and they won't be committing to more fossil fuel infrastructure while we're dealing with a climate crisis."
44News reached out to CenterPoint Energy ahead of the hearing and they believe the planned projects are a long-term investment in the community and said if their request is approved, the soonest a rate increase would take effect would be at the end of 2023.
While no final decision will be made for some time, the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC), the agency representing the public, said based on input so far, they expect many more concerned customers to come forward in the next month.
"At this point, we're getting more consumer comments on this case than we have on any other in a while," OUCC Communications Director Anthony Swinger said.
The OUCC is inviting written comments from CenterPoint Energy customers until November 12.
Written comments can be made via the OUCC’s website at www.in.gov/oucc/2361.htm, by email at uccinfo@oucc.IN.gov, or by mail at:
Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor
115 W. Washington St., Suite 1500 South
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Written comments should include the customer's name, mailing address, and a reference to either “IURC Cause No. 45564” or CenterPoint Energy. Consumers with questions about submitting written comments can contact the OUCC’s consumer services staff toll-free at 1-888-441-2494.
The OUCC will consider written comments, as well as verbal comments that were given at the public hearing, and file them in its testimony on CenterPoint Energy's request on Nov. 19, 2021.
CenterPoint Energy provides electric service to approximately 145,000 customers in seven southwestern Indiana counties.