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State agency fights utility rates for electric cars
State agency fights utility rates for electric cars
By Associated Press / ibj.com

A consumer group and a state agency said Friday that Indianapolis consumers shouldn't face increased rates for electricity so that a utility can set up a proposed electric car-sharing program.

Indianapolis Power & Light Co. has requested a rate increase to help pay for its part in setting up charging stations for electric cars that drivers could rent as part of the BlueIndy program, a partnership between the city and the France-based Bollore Group, which makes the cars and their lithium metal polymer batteries. The city plans to have the car-sharing service in place by the end of 2014. That's when 125 cars will become available at 25 charging sites, including the city's airport and shopping and cultural districts.

IPL has asked regulators to approve a rate increase that it says would raise an average residential customer's bill 44 cents per month. The proposed $16 million total increase would cover unfunded IPL costs for providing electric line extensions to the charging sites.

But the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, the state agency that represents consumers, and consumer watchdog group Citizens Action Coalition both filed testimony opposing the rate increase plan.

Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor David Stippler said that while the community would benefit from BlueIndy, "we believe that the requested rate increase does not fall within the scope of relief allowed under state utility law." That relief, the agency said, is limited to costs related to providing electrical service to all of IPL's customers.

Citizens Action Coalition Executive Director Kerwin Olson went further. "This does not appear to be a project designed to benefit the working class and low income residents of Indianapolis and the struggles they face in getting around town due to Indianapolis' abysmal mass transit," he said in a statement. "IPL ratepayers are subject to monopoly service, meaning that they cannot choose another electric service provider within IPL's service territory."

IPL said it believes its customers will benefit from BlueIndy.

"BlueIndy is an innovative program that will bring a needed transportation option to our community," IPL said in a statement released Friday.

Marc Lotter, a spokesman for Mayor Greg Ballard, said the rate increase is only a backup plan in case revenue from car rentals doesn't cover IPL's costs. Lotter said the increase would last for five years beginning in 2018 if it's needed.

Bollore estimates it'll take 15,000 to 20,000 regular users a year for the program to break even.

"BlueIndy will provide the charging stations and cars and they will pay for the electricity they use," Lotter said. He said the rate increase was only a provisional backup plan.

A hearing on the rate increase proposal is scheduled for July 23.

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State agency fights utility rates for electric cars