An energy-focused state legislative study committee ended its first and last meeting Thursday with no bill recommendations, but its leader indicated there’s more to come from a separate, related group.

The Interim Study Committee on Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications heard a series of reports on broadband grants; the energy, communications, water and wastewater industries; utility consumer protection; clean energy and a pilot — but voted to adopt a report devoid of recommendations for the legislative session beginning in January.

Indiana faces several challenges in ensuring sufficient, reliable and affordable energy, speakers said, as the state’s utilities transition to newer, renewable options and grapple with tumultuous economic conditions.

Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission Chair Jim Huston warned that environment-friendly pushes could endanger energy affordability.

“Indiana’s historically strong competitive price position has been challenged as environmental compliance regulations have been implemented and continually tightened over the past decade,” Huston said.

Indiana’s coal usage has dropped from 73% of its total fuel mix to 51% since 2012, according to the commission’s 2022 report. Natural gas and wind have increased to fill the gap, while nuclear has also ticked up.

“When comparing this generation portfolio from a decade ago to the current mix, we see a stark difference that can be attributed to environmental mandates,” Huston said.

Action is likely to come from the 21st Century Energy Policy Development Task Force, indicated committee and task force Chair Rep. Edmond Soliday, R-Valparaiso. The task force was first authorized in 2019’s House Enrolled Act 1278.

“We have sort of adapted in the task force a mantra that we’ll encourage renewables but we will not compromise reliability and affordability,” Soliday said.

To boost reliability, he said, the task force will likely recommend slashing the percentage of capacity that regulated utilities can buy under statute.

“Everyone is buying and no one is selling in [the Midcontinent Independent System Operator],” Soliday said. “So we started with … 30%, that the utilities could buy up to 30%. We needed to see how that would work out and in an environment that is changing rapidly.”

“But that number, after we’ve seen what happened in the auction and so forth, that number will probably be at least cut in half and maybe more,” Soliday added.

© Indiana Capital Chronicle, 2023 The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.