House Bill 1193 Needs Your Voice Imminently
Imagine you care about the implications of our energy consumption. Let's say you believe people should be able to have access to renewable energy, even if they they have to pay for it themselves. If a non-profit like a church wants to raise money by letting some private investors pay to put solar panels on its roofs or land, then the congregation should be allowed to avail its property. Or if a school had solar panels, then during the summer months when school is out of session the school district should be allowed to sell its excess solar production to the community.
Now let's say you have a group of people who want to install solar panels but cannot because they rent. Or they live in a multi-story building, or in a shady area. Or these citizens don't have a lot of money to invest in a long-term commitment but they want to do the right thing while lowering their bills. If a group of neighbors want to build a solar array together to offset their carbon-intensive electricity consumption, property rights should allow them to do spend their own money as they see fit.
In Indiana, that's illegal.
The concept of a few investors building a nearby solar array to to get a solar credit on their utility bills is called Community Solar. By building up alternatives to one monolithic grid controlled by the monopoly utility, the generation of energy is distributed across multiple sources. Diversification builds grid resiliency.
Of course the utility needs to meet high demand when there are usage spikes, say, during the peak air conditioning hours of summer. To do so the utilities have to build extra generation capacity, such as diesel generators that sit idle except for during occasional spikes. Those carbon-intensive stand-by generation facilities are paid for by all ratepayers, and the system becomes further fossilized.
With community solar, when the summer sun is causing so much demand, the panels create greatest surplus energy that can be shunted to the grid. When the utility doesn't need to build extra capacity for the peak, it saves all ratepayers in avoided costs. The math is obvious.
Such common sense takes a U-turn when you talk to some Statehouse officials who have an interest in the status quo. For example, when I asked my state senator to query a colleague who chairs the relevant committee about community solar, the reply was standard utility talking points about subsidies for the folks who build solar. Say it often enough and people will accept the ruse, when in fact it would be the community solar particpants who would be paying to strengthen the state's electrical grid. When a law change benefits consumers it's called a subsidy, but when it benefits a utility it's called an incentive.
The committee chair's answer went further in justifying the absurdity of Indiana's objection to private investors initiating community solar. The chair declared the legislative authority for community solar already exists in Indiana, so there is no need to discuss it further. Indeed, the authority does exist now; however, the only ones who can legally initiate a community solar installation in Indiana are...ready for this?...the utilities! The foxes are fully in charge of the hen house.
Who opposes community solar? Investor-owned electric utilities (Duke, AES, CenterPoint, I&M, NIPSCO) and
their trade association, the Indiana Energy Association (IEA). Many utilities recover most of the costs of IEA membership dues through the utility rates they charge you. That is, part of your electric bill payment goes to the lobbyists to oppose cheaper rates.
This 2024 Indiana legislative session is short (ends by March 14), and HB 1193 has been introduced but needs a hearing. A hearing allows a bill to see the light of day, to discuss the merits of the legislation. However, the committee chair is the fox who acts as a gate keeper for legislation. Without your voice, proposed community solar legislation will see no sunshine.
Friends, please ask your legislator soon to support HB 1193, even if only to give the bill a hearing. Take action now. Here's a simple form to make your advocacy painless yet meaningful. Or make a phone call or visit in person. It's time to be a citizen who cares about our current energy trajectory rather than letting special interests dictate the dialogue. You can get more information from the coalition Hoosiers for Community Solar.
Thank you for imagining and acting on the implications of our energy consumption.