Indiana House Removes Review Provision from Rockport Gas Plant Bill

The Indiana House has stripped a provision from a bill that would have subjected the proposed $2.6 billion coal-gasification plant for Rockport to a second in-depth review by state regulators.

Republican state Rep. Matt Ubelhor of Bloomfield pushed the changes to shield the project from such a review. Ubelhor manages coal mines for Peabody Energy and told fellow lawmakers the project would be a huge boon for Indiana’s coal industry.

The changes would mean Indiana state government’s contract to buy and then resell the Rockport plant’s synthetic gas would be more likely to survive legislative and legal challenges.

Lawmakers are debating the wisdom of the 30-year contract negotiated in 2011 by the Indiana Finance Authority under former governor Mitch Daniels to buy the Rockport plant’s synthetic natural gas at a pre-negotiated rate and then resell it to Hoosier ratepayers at open-market prices.

If the Rockport plant’s prices beat the market rate, those Indiana gas customers would save money, with half the difference going into their pockets and half going to the plant’s financiers. If natural gas prices remain suppressed, ratepayers would pay higher bills.

Either way, if the plant is built, all Indiana ratepayers would see 17 percent of their gas bills tied to the Rockport plant’s prices over the next three decades.

The contract is the subject of an ongoing legal battle. The Indiana Court of Appeals voided state regulators’ approval of the deal, ordering one 37-word portion to be stricken. The Indiana Supreme Court could soon take up the case.

A group of opponents led by Vectren Corp. who contend the project could saddle ratepayers with higher bills were frustrated by House’s move.