by Brian Christenberry
Though Indiana’s electric cooperatives will not have any landmark legislation in play during the short 2018 Indiana General Assembly session now underway, co-ops will continue working to put legislative building blocks in place to bring high-speed broadband to the unserved areas of Indiana.
Time is of the essence during the non-budget session which comes around every other year. The 2018 session must adjourn by March 14 which leaves little room for filler and fluff.
The general consensus among observers this time of year is that about 80 percent of all bills filed in 2018 will not become law. So, associations and special interests like Indiana Electric Cooperatives need to make every moment count.
For the past several sessions, IEC has been engaging in some controversial and difficult debates on issues that affect its members — Indiana’s 38 electric cooperatives — and the safe, reliable and affordable electricity they provide to their consumers. IEC has asked lawmakers to protect co-op service territory, tweak the rules under which cooperatives operate and how broadband can be brought to unserved areas. To the credit of Indiana’s electric cooperatives and their engaged consumers, we have won those battles.
This session, co-ops will continue working on broadband legislation in anticipation for the time federal and state governments invest as much in digital infrastructure as they did in 20th century roads and bridges.
During this session, IEC will fight to also correct a measure passed last year that allows a local unit of government to force all electric utility providers to bury new and repaired power lines. This mandate will lead to a cost increase that will be felt by consumers. Originally intended to apply to telecoms installing new 5g technology, the Indiana Energy Association, Indiana Municipal Power Agency and IEC are working together to try to correct this overreach.
Over the past 18 months, IEC has engaged in strategic initiatives that have focused on quality of life, readying a 21st century workforce and reaching out to a younger generation of consumers. We are excited Gov. Eric Holcomb has announced 2018 legislative initiative items that mirror our objectives. The governor’s 2018 agenda will focus on developing a more technologically savvy workforce to fill current openings and attract emerging tech business to our state.
As you follow the news over the next two months, you probably won’t see IEC stealing the headlines away from issues like Sunday sales of alcohol, constitutional carrying of firearms, medicinal use of marijuana or electoral redistricting reform. Flying under the radar and not asking for too much leading up to a campaign season is exactly where Indiana’s electric co-ops need to be this year. Encouraging broadband deployment, attracting business and workers to our state and keeping your energy bills low is all the publicity we could ask for this General Assemby session.
BRIAN CHRISTENBERRY is state government relations manager for Indiana Electric Cooperatives.