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A costly natural gas deal

In an agreement that received little notice in northern Indiana, the state’s appointed finance authority signed a long-term deal with a private company that gets Indiana into the natural gas business, at a price that will cost both taxpayers and anyone who uses natural gas to heat their homes, water heaters or other appliances.

Just how big a price is uncertain, but a natural gas provider opposing the deal pegs it at more than $1 billion.

Leucadia National Corp. will use coal to make natural gas at a new plant in Rockport, on the Ohio River about 30 miles east of Evansville. As the Indianapolis Star reported, state government will pay $6.60 per 1 million BTUs of natural gas. When the state and the company first began talking, the state was getting a good price. But since then, natural gas has become much more plentiful – dropping the price to $3 per million.

That means if the plant opened tomorrow, the state government would buy natural gas for twice the price it would garner on the open market.

The state hopes to sell the gas for a profit. If prices go back up, it could turn into a great deal for Indiana. But if prices remain stable, Hoosier taxpayers will have to subsidize big losses. And that $6.60 price will rise with inflation.

It will take a long time for the state to get out of the deal. The finance authority, with Gov. Mitch Daniels’ blessing, signed a 30-year contract requiring the state to buy the natural gas.

Vectren, a natural gas company that opposes the arrangement, said Hoosiers will end up paying more than $1 billion to subsidize the plant and that the average bill of all natural gas customers in Indiana will rise $3.90 a month.

Mark Lubbers, the director of the project for a Leucadia subsidiary, called Vectren’s numbers “absurd.”

Lubbers, by the way, was a former chief adviser for Daniels.

Bad drivers

The campaign between Republican Richard Mourdock and Democrat Joe Donnelly has big ramifications – not just for Indiana but for the entire nation – because it could conceivably determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.

In one of the nastiest statewide campaigns Hoosiers have seen, the candidates and groups supporting them have been mercilessly attacking the other side.

But in a twist that would be ludicrous if the race weren’t so important, now the opposing camps are accusing the opponent of the ultimate transgression – bad driving.

First was a Donnelly ad that used a faux Mourdock shouting “it’s my way or the highway,” then speeding down the road – and swerving into the opposite lane.

Now Mourdock has an ad depicting Donnelly driving and turning left – onto the path labeled “Liberal” – onto a narrow road, where he splashes muddy water out of a pothole.

Tracy Warner, editorial page editor, has worked at The Journal Gazette since 1981. He can be reached at 461-8113 or by email, twarner@jg.net.

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