Sun About To Set On Solar Energy

Wake up, Hoosiers. Your state legislators are about to crush the incentive to install solar panels as part of the mix of renewable energy sources in Indiana. If you don't act, get ready to say goodbye to solar.

Coming up soon (perhaps March 29) for a vote in a House utilities committee is Senate Bill 309 (SB309), a bill that will eliminate net-metering. While it sounds like wonkish stuff, essentially it means ordinary people and institutions that install solar panels will no longer be able to sell back to the utility at retail rate the excess electricity they generate from the sun. Rather, the electric utility will buy the solar-generated energy at a fraction of the cost (i.e., wholesale), and then re-sell it to a nearby neighbor at full rate.

The implications are significant. SB309 will negatively impact the rapidly growing solar industry to the unmerited benefit of carbon-based utilities. Solar investment--and the jobs that solar power brings--will plummet. For example, when Nevada eliminated net-metering, new residential solar installation permits dropped 92 percent in the first quarter of 2016. Environmentally proactive companies that want to install solar panels would be similarly discouraged from locating in Indiana.

In a good summary of SB309's impact, the South Bend company Solar Inovateus spells out how "net metering is critical to a modernized electrical grid." It also notes that, "thanks to solar, Hoosiers are cutting their electric bills, adding jobs, and breathing cleaner air."

What can you do if you believe solar energy should be a viable resource in the mix of sustainable energy? Take a few minutes to share your opinion with your Indiana legislator (http://iga.in.gov/information/about_contact/). Simply dial (800) 382-9842 for the Indiana House of Representatives or (800) 382-9467 for the Indiana State Senate. When you connect with your legislator's office, tell the receptionist you are opposed to SB309. If you wish, you can leave additional comments. It's that easy.

My Comments to Legislators

I recently shared my thoughts on SB309 with Sen. Joe Zakas (R), District 11 and an adapted version with Rep. Dale DeVon (R), District 5. I also phoned to ask each about his stance on SB309. Senator Zakas sent a written reply (see photo).

In response to his talking points and an attached newspaper article summary, I wrote and sent the following:

Dear Senator Zakas, Thank you for explaining in writing why you support SB309, which is based on what I believe is erroneous and incomplete information. Please do not embrace the inaccuracies foisted on Indiana consumers by the utility interests. First, you tout the value of grandfathering net-metering as if it’s a benefit, yet citing some seemingly far-off date still has the same outcome. In fact, with SB309 you will eliminate the justified practice of owners selling excess power at the retail rate. Intending to be good stewards of creation, my church is interested in bringing a solar array to our parish within the next few years, but we’d have fewer than ten years of net metering once the project is online. By cutting off incentive, you would similarly discourage environmentally proactive businesses who want to invest in Indiana from locating here. Second, you claim solar owners don’t pay their fair share of associated costs, but each bill a consumer gets, including solar owners, includes items that I&M describes (https://www.indianamichiganpower.com/global/utilities/lib/docs/ratesandtariffs/Indiana/Your_Bill.pdf) as "meters, meter reading, billing and other fixed costs…(and) most of the costs of poles, wires and other electric generation, transmission and distribution services.” When the solar owner reverses the flow of electricity and puts it into the local grid, they effectively lessen the costs of moving the electricity from power plant to consumer. The utilities make it sound like solar energy put into the system has to navigate the grid to some distant location across the state, when the energy likely flows to the solar panel owner's next door neighbor and lessens the demand on the grid. The neighbor’s solar-generated energy doesn’t burden the vast power plant and grid, yet the utility will still charge them full rate as if it did. Third, you included a statement by the leader of a Massachuseetts study who claims an “antisolar backlash” because of a purported shift of cost burdens—a backlash by the utilities who stand to gain from the legislation. In a blog post (http://www.nightwise.org/single-post/2017/02/25/Solar-Power-Grab) about SB309 I wrote: "Advocates claim net metering is subsidized by customers who do not have solar systems. Yet there is no proof, only corporate posturing. Before acting, legislators should ask the Indiana Utility Regulation Committee (IURC) to conduct a study to determine the real value of distributed generation. Not surprisingly, per a Brookings Institution report (https://www.brookings.edu/research/rooftop-solar-net-metering-is-a-net-benefit/) the majority of such studies in other states have shown that the small solar-generating customers actually make net contributions to the utility system. A detailed report (http://www.eenews.net/assets/2017/02/10/document_ew_01.pdf) by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concludes, 'the effects of distributed solar on retail electricity prices will likely remain negligible for the foreseeable future.' So far, an unbiased scientific review to determine fair compensation to solar panel owners has not happened in Indiana." By holding on to the limited view that net-metering does a disservice to electricity customers like me—and I don’t even own any solar-powered generating capacity—you dismiss the value of having regular people bring benefits to our health and environment that the utility cannot deliver. All of the solar panel owners are doing the public a service, and SB309 will eliminate all future incentive to do the right thing. For a recent example, when net-metering was cut in Nevada, new residential solar installation permits plunged 92 percent in the first quarter of 2016. And with it went the jobs. I’m not inclined to eliminate solar energy from the mix of sustainable energy resources. Indiana consumers and the rest of our country need a thriving option to electricity production dominated by carbon. Sincerely, Chuck Bueter

The ball is in your court, Hoosiers. Not all of the political nightmares we need to challenge are in Washington, DC. Contact your state legislator soon. SB309 is in your own backyard, and its impact is very real.

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