INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
A bill pushed by Indiana’s investor-owned utilities that would eliminate
much of the financial incentive available to those who install solar panels
is headed to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk after it was approved on Monday by the
Sen. Brandt Hershman’s bill was given final passage when the Senate voted
37-11 to approve changes made to the measure in the House. Holcomb
spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson declined to say if he will sign the bill into
law, but she added that the Republican “has been watching the bill all
session and will consider it carefully.”
accounts for less than 1 percent of Indiana’s power and utilities worry the
plunging cost of solar panels, as well as its growing popularity, could
someday cut into their profits. Utilities say that will eventually lead to
higher rates for customers.
But the measure
also comes as utilities across the U.S. are looking to carve out their own
share of the solar market. They are promoting an alternative to installing
home solar panels called “community solar” that involves customers agreeing
to buy or lease panels from the utilities on large panel farms.
Critics say it all
adds up to an effort by the utilities to muscle out small companies,
threatening the 1,500 jobs the Solar Foundation estimated in 2015 that the
industry had created in Indiana.
At issue is a
practice called “net metering,” which mandates that churches, businesses,
schools and homeowners who install solar panels be compensated for any
surplus energy they feed back onto the grid, unusually in the form of a
credit on their power bill.
would drastically curtail in five years the current “retail” rate of
compensation, bringing it closer in line with the wholesale cost utilities
pay for energy. The bill would allow those who install solar panels before
2018 to continue to collect the current rate for 30 years, while those who
purchase panels after that, but before 2022, could collect the rate until
say the current rate is needed to break even on an expensive investment. But
Hershman, of Lafayette, says the rate of compensation should come down as
the technology improves and it becomes easier to recoup costs.
recognizes that solar is becoming an increasingly competitive means of
generation and that’s a great thing,” said Hershman. “It’s taking off on its
question the need for the bill, since current state law caps net metering
once 1 percent of a utilities energy comes from an alternative energy
source, like wind or solar.
Kerwin Olson, of
left-leaning utility watchdog group, Citizens Action Coalition, called the
bill’s passage is “an all out affront on Hoosier consumers and relegates
Indiana to the backwaters of innovation.”
to a provision in the bill that sets the new rate of compensation that will
eventually be put in place. Rate setting should be done by the Indiana
Utility Regulatory Commission, said State Sen. Mark Stoops, of Bloomington,
who noted that Hershman himself said rate established by the bill was an
“arbitrary” figure he picked.