I&M plans a big investment in infrastructure
The customary reaction to utilities that announce plans to raise customers’ rates is dismay and skepticism.
It’s not that everything else doesn’t perpetually seem to be getting more expensive, but you can choose to avoid buying some of those things.
Power, not so much.
Indiana & Michigan Power is fresh off a $92 million rate hike it received permission for last year from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. That added an average of $12 to residential customers’ bills. (The increase, though, has been challenged by the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor; a ruling by the Indiana Court of Appeals is pending.)
But at first blush, the utility’s announcement of a $500 million effort to upgrade the electricity infrastructure in northeast Indiana seems to be a wise move. Between now and 2019, I&M says, it plans to rebuild and improve power lines, install some new transmission lines, build and improve substations and update equipment.
I&M representatives told us this week that the effect of the five- to six-year plan on consumers would amount to less than a dollar a month. In return, they said, customers will get a more reliable power-delivery system that can handle peak demands more comfortably and will be more impervious to storms.
Some of the transmission lines in our area are several decades old. One I&M line in Muncie was working fine but was found to be 100 years old.
It makes sense to replace such equipment before it fails. Imagine the disruption and danger that major power outages would have added to the travails of this month’s weather. If there are power failures despite the new systems, I&M says, the improvements would make it easier for repair crews to isolate and fix the problems.
The company pledges to work with property owners and neighborhoods that will be affected by the replacement or rerouting of transmission lines, addressing issues of aesthetics and safety along the way. We want to be partners with the homeowners and property owners, said Sarah Bodner, I&M’s director of communications and community relations. My life, adds Paul Chodak, I&M’s president, gets a bit easier when customers are happy.
I&M also believes the refortified infrastructure will appeal to businesses that want to locate or expand here and want to know that increased power is available and dependable.
Some questions remain. The utility and its regional partners in the PJM Interconnective consortium agree that upgrades have to happen, but it’s not yet clear exactly when or whether the proposal will have to come before the IURC, and it’s not clear exactly how much it will cost customers. If the increase per customer can truly be measured in pennies instead of dollars, this looks like a good deal.
Art for art’s sake – but not for bankruptcy’s
The Monuments Men, a film with an all-star cast led by George Clooney, debuted in theaters on Friday. Based on a book by Robert Edsel, it tells the story of a special military unit that raced across Europe in a largely successful effort to save monuments and works of art at the end of World War II.
The irony will not be lost on the art community in Detroit, where priceless paintings and sculpture owned by the city have been threatened not by the Nazis but by the cold workings of a federal bankruptcy case.
The city has been under pressure to sell the artwork to ease the city’s estimated $18.5 billion debt or to help cover the city’s woefully underfunded pension fund.
U.S. District Judge Gerald E. Rosen, however, is trying to broker a deal that would ultimately keep the art collection in Detroit while funneling $800 million into the pension fund.
According to the New York Times, the money would come from private foundations, which already have pledged $370 million, the state – Gov. Rick Snyder has asked the legislature to kick in $350 million – and the Detroit Institute of Arts. The DIA, which runs the museum in which the city’s art treasures reside, last week announced a campaign to raise $100 million toward the judge’s funding plan.
The deal would make the artwork immune to assaults from creditors by transferring ownership of the museum to the DIA, a nonprofit organization that in turn would pledge to keep the collection in Detroit forever. Many museums, such as the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, have long operated as private nonprofits.