By Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Jean D. Breaux

Word count: 422

Transparency and accountability. Those are the first two words that came to my mind when I first heard about the manhole explosions that rocked downtown Indianapolis last week. Understandably, the priority now is public safety before the Final Four and thousands of fans come to downtown Indianapolis next week. Yet, the Final Four being held in Indianapolis should not be the main motivator for the swift action we have seen thus far when the safety of our residents seems to be perpetually at risk.

Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) and other utilities have a long track record of similar incidents that are soon forgotten after the smoke clears and the faulty infrastructure is repaired. In 2011, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) hired an Atlanta-based consulting firm to investigate a number of incidents and failures dating back to 2005. What they found was startling.

While the report stated the downtown Indianapolis network is “well-designed and regularly maintained,” they also stated that if changes are not made along the lines they suggested, the utilities can expect to encounter similar network incidents three to five times per year.

The report went as far as to make recommendations for improvements to the system. In fact, they called for “an immediate need to improve the process by which IPL finds, documents, and remediates failures in its electrical system.” Many questions to utility companies and the IURC remain: did the utilities make these improvements? After last week’s events, it sure doesn’t seem like it.

IPL has stated time and time again that rate increases are placed on individual ratepayers in order to fund capital improvements to our system. The utilities have also come to the legislature and demanded measures be placed in state law that would allow them to recover lost revenues from a lack of new customers and the effects of federal mandates intended to curb pollution from coal-burning power plants.

Where are these revenues going if not to improve the regularly-occurring failures we have been seeing? To help answer this question I intend to propose a legislative solution that would require the IURC to present their determinations to the General Assembly regarding utility rates and services within Indiana. It is my belief that increased transparency and accountability placed on these utilities will paint a clear picture of whether or not the improvements to the system are being made. For now I am thankful that no one has been hurt, and I am hopeful that these problems will be resolved in the near future to protect the safety of our citizens.