With a Little Help From Their Friends…

I know it’s hard to take our eyes off the mounting disasters in D.C., but let’s take a moment to talk about Indiana. Specifically, let’s talk about Senate Bill 309, sponsored by Senator Brandt Hershman. (It’s always wise to look carefully–and skeptically– at anything Hershman sponsors.)

Senate Bill 309 is about “distributed energy generation.” (If your eyes already glazed over, that was the intent.) What it is really about is the protection of electric monopolies at the expense of consumers.

Let’s say you have rooftop solar, and you currently have “net metering.” Net metering is a term that refers to a billing arrangement between you and the electric utility; when your rooftop panels are generating more energy than you are using, the excess goes back into the grid, and the utility credits you for that excess at the same rate that you pay them when you aren’t generating enough to cover your needs and you buy the rest of what you need from them.

Even if it is an even swap, you still pay the utility an amount sufficient to cover its overhead costs–billing, meter reading, etc. Fair enough.

Most studies of this growing practice have concluded that net metering benefits the grid and other customers, as well as the environment. As Citizens Action Coalition explains,

The multiple benefits of net metering include: avoided costs of purchasing energy and building new power plants, avoided capital investments, increased grid resiliency and security, reduced carbon emissions, and reduced toxic air emissions.

But what are those benefits when weighed against diminished profits for electric monopolies? In Senator Hershman’s calculus, not much.

If Senate Bill 309 passes, you will no longer be able to use the electricity from your rooftop solar panels and sell any excess back to the utility. Instead, you would be forced to sell all the electricity you generate to the utility at a much lower price than the utility charges you, and then buy back what you need at their substantially higher “retail” price. (The utilities will have to pay you at something called the “avoided cost” rate–which is somewhere between 2.5 and 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour.–You’ll have to buy it back at retail rates between 11 and 16 cents per kilowatt hour.)

Nice work if you can get it!

If SB 309 passes, it will price rooftop solar and small-scale wind generation out of the market.

During just the last five years, over a million Americans have installed solar, and the costs of both solar and wind generated energy have dropped dramatically. That’s good for the environment, and good for consumers’ pocketbooks, but it has cut into the profit margins of the big electrical utilities.

Fortunately for them, those big monopolies have good friends like Senator Hershman in the Indiana General Assembly.

Consumers, unfortunately, do not.

Update: for information about who to call, go here.

41 thoughts on “With a Little Help From Their Friends…

  1. Messages can be left for your Senator at the Senate switchboard at 317-232-9400 or
    toll free at 1-800-382-9467. You may also wish to leave a message for Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch who would cast the deciding vote in case there is a tie. Her number is 317-232-4545.

    You can type in your address to be matched to your State Senator by scrolling down on the webpage at https://iga.in.gov/legislative/find-legislators/.

    Spread the word.

  2. I hit the button too soon. Tell your State Senator to OPPOSE S.B. 309 because it will increase our electric bills and pollute our air.

  3. The good news is that the cost of solar panels et al is falling at a fairly quick pace. Additionally the efficiency of storage batteries is increasing and their cost decreasing as well. (lots of documentation on the internet). Utility companies themselves have been slow and reluctant to get on board although more and more are doing so, even in places like Maine and Iowa (which is really big on wind power as well).

    Aside from cost for consumer purchased batteries to store the energy they generate, there is also the issue of storage inefficiency (which is getting better). But overall, solar (and wind) beat the pants off fossil fuel generated power.

    What Senator Hershman probably doesn’t realize, is that Republicans as well as Democrats install solar generators. The utilities really need to quit fighting history and get on board with solar and wind generation power lest they go the way of whale oil companies when natural gas came into widespread use for lighting, etc. (For anyone following Victoria on PBS, they depict the upheaval occurring when Buckingham was plumbed for gas.)

    Senator Merritt, local to Indianapolis, is one of the sponsors of the bill in the Senate.

  4. Senator Hershman is also the person who identified the findings of the legislative study committee on redistricting as a “solution looking for a problem” when that group (of which he was a member) recommended by a vote of 8 to 3, that an independent commission to redistrict would insure that all Indiana voting districts would be competitive and drawn without giving either political party absolute power to redraw districts in their own favor.

    Indiana has one of the largest solar farms or arrays in the country, at Indianapolis International Airport. Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Federal Center in Lawrence also has large solar arrays. The savings to those entities must have been significant both in dollars and environmentally or they would not have been built.

    His part of the state has a significant number of wind power farms. What is his real aim here? Is he going to eliminate competition for the regulated monopolies that are the utility companies by going after solar to promote wind power producers in his own district? Or is he setting himself up for a nice gig with the utility providers post political career? Sounding cynical, it is likely the later, IMO.

  5. I just finished reading an article about international corruption. The USA is listed as one of the “cleanest” and most “transparent governments”. I had to laugh. The rankings are based on online searches of cases involving “corruption” or “corrupt politicians”.

    Our media seldom uses the term “corrupt” or “bribe” because lawmakers and judges who make the rules, and then rule on those laws, have made bribing public officials legal. Since it’s legal, our media companies had to choose different words which sound more palatable to readers/voters/citizens.

    Kind of like, white-washing mass genocide white Europeans committed against Native American Indians.

    Brent is a corrupt politician, as are most of them. Hillary Clinton was extremely corrupted. She not only accepted direct bribes from corporations, she had a foundation where other countries could make donations for favors while she served as Secretary of State.

    All corporate owned journalists are not allowed to call our politicians corrupt for accepting bribes from individuals and corporations, but that’s exactly what it is. Our supreme court ruled 5-4, there is no evidence of “quid pro quo”, thus making the 5 who saw it that way, as the MOST corrupt officials in the USA.

    Despite all the evidence about climate change, and the millions of climate change refugees, it’s amazing to watch how this country responds to this crisis. Politicians keep changing laws allowing corruption to happen and the media plays along. Voters have no faith in either institution.

    Our democracy died decades ago…what remains today is a Kleptocracy. It’s oppressive, and it will require pitchforks and guillotines because they will not turn it over peacefully. Trump’s draining of the swamp truly meant, “Our Fascists will eradicate Washington of liberal do-gooders”.

  6. My experience with Sen. Hershman has been very unpleasant to downright belligerent. Opposing him on any idea will result in belittling insults and name calling on his part. He is an epic jerk. His major campaign donors are AEP, Duke Energy, and an association of rural electric co-ops. I agree with Nancy Papas, call your senator and the Lt. Governor; you will get a much better response and possibly kill this bill that just wreaks of money and influence guiding policy.

  7. This bill will be heard in committee on February 9 at 9:00 in room 233. Here is a link to the site to be able to watch it live – https://iga.in.gov/legislative/2017/committees/utilities_3800

    It was assigned to the Committe on Utilities. Here are the members, as copied from the IN General Assembly website:

    Chair

    Sen. James Merritt
    Ranking Member

    Sen. Mark Messmer
    Majority Members

    Sen. Michael Delph
    Sen. Erin Houchin
    Sen. Eric Koch
    Sen. Jean Leising
    Sen. James Tomes
    Ranking Minority Member

    Sen. Mark Stoops
    Minority Members

    Sen. Timothy Lanane
    Sen. Lonnie Randolph

    We should make contact with all of these members and also encourage friends and family to so so.

    The powerful utilities and fossil fuel corporations have enjoyed enormous wealth and power for decades and have deep enough pockets to buy politicians to keep their monopolies in business. We HAVE to fight back. Our environment and health depend on it.

  8. Republicans have always painted themselves as being for competition. The aim of this bill is to do away with competition to the electric energy industry. Is there anything left of the Republican Party that does not scream “hypocrisy”?

  9. To protect the utility industries, President Trump will bring the winds to a stop and shield the Earth from the rays of the sun in the sky. There. Easily done. And he will do a really, really, excellent job of it, the best anybody ever has done.

  10. I’m a Florida resident. We just had a similar item on our ballot in November. With tons of public education via social media and traditional media, it’s real intent was made obvious and it was defeated. WTF is wrong with utility companies? !?! Why don’t they just get on the bandwagon instead of hanging on to things that are going to go away, no matter what they wish?

  11. I am already in a battle with IPL regarding the increases in my bill two months in a row during the mildest winter we have had for years. They, of course, have proof of my increased power usage in THEIR readouts. I approve of solar panels but do not need them on my small, tightly built home for economic reasons. For economic reasons I cannot afford them for environmental reasons. My December bill (for November) was $58 which was low due to warm weather, January bill (for December) was $79 with warmer weather, February bill (for January) is $90 with record warm temperatures; included in my bills is the notification of IPL request for a local rate increase. I have been paying electric bills for 60 years, in three different states, and never had a $90 monthly bill. Talking to friends and family I have learned that those of us living in Franklin and Warren Townships have had high increases but those in Center Township received none. I commented on the blog on Facebook about this; most government buildings and expensive downtown neighborhoods, apartments and lofts are in Center Township. Why would City-County Council NOT grant the requested IPL increase when it will not effect them?

    The blog is concerning a different problem with IPL but the issue of their rate increase, only in specific townships, and subject to City-County Council approval should NOT be ignored. It is a situation where there are two issues regarding economic differences with IPL; the state level regarding the solar panel issue will overshadow the local IPL increases only in specific areas. A number of people who received bills of $200 and $300 contacted Channel 6 Help Line; Channel 6 reported IPL insisted the higher bills were due to cold weather. Channel 6 reported the median temperature in December was 43 degrees.

    Yes; we need to contact state level officials regarding the confusing issue of solar panel usage and billing but, please do not ignore the City-County Council level issue regarding increased rates here in Marion County. The majority effected are suburban areas where working people and many on fixed incomes live.

    Sheila said it herself; “…those big monopolies have good friends like Senator Hershman in the Indiana General Assembly.

    Consumers, unfortunately, do not.”

  12. Here is an example of fighting. We should be directing funds at specific republican politicians’ districts. An organization should target Hershman’s constituents, on an individual level, and educate them as to his epic corruption. In essence he is targeted and destroyed politically, forever. His constituents may be backward and habitual R lever pullers, but they are not bad people and they will not tolerate a crook. Once he is destroyed, watch the others become more careful about how they handle their bribes and votes. Rinse and repeat.

  13. The bill in Floridaa was presented as an Amendment to the state constitution, and voted down by the citizens. That doesn’t mean something just like this bill won’t come up in the legislature. I’m sure ALEC will have a version ready to go if Indiana passes Hershman’s bill.

  14. Hershman is clearly in the pocket of the utilities in attending to their bottom lines, undeserved profits made available by their toadies in the legislature at the expense of rate payers and a classic example of corporate welfare provided by those who are in return awarded large “campaign contributions,” aka bribes.

  15. Just received my first post-solar electric bill. Even with a cloudy January we were able to generate more than 350 kWh from our new rooftop array. But we are small potatoes compared to the schools that have recently added solar to their physical plants as a way to control fixed expenses. Who is losing money from those deals?

  16. You have to suspect Senator Hershman did not author this bill out of his own head. You have to think, but not to hard who handed Hershman the Bill he now is pushing???
    ===========
    The world of alternative facts has a new spin. Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Donald Trump, has come in for criticism and ridicule after blaming two Iraqi refugees for a massacre that never happened. CONway was on Chris Matthews show.

    Tonight, Kellyanne Conway told Chris Matthews:

    I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized, and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. Most people don’t know that because it didn’t get covered.

    Here was Matthews’ response: “Let’s talk about the major strategic goal of this administration.” A better response would have been: “WTF? There was never a massacre in Bowling Green. Are you out of your goddamn mind?”

    In case you’re wondering, your memory hasn’t short-circuited. There was no massacre in Bowling Green that the media inexplicably failed to cover.
    =====================================================================
    I can’t stand Chris Matthews he is usually a loud mouthed, and rude talking over other people. So why did he let CONway off the hook???

  17. Louie; if we haven’t heard about that particular massacre which didn’t happen, Matthews didn’t hear about the non-event either and felt stupid for not knowing when it happened or the outcome.

  18. In the case of the FL attempt to get the same result, continue the monopoly of large utilities, both sides were very well funded. TV ads were pervasive. It was clear who funded the monopolistic side, but not clear who funded the competition perspective. Elon Musk perhaps.

    The utility case was based on innuendo and contrived issues and if forces had not been in place to explain the meaning of the words the average Floridian would have been fooled for sure. For instance the ads were couched as pro-solar not pro-utility company.

    We in FL are extremely easy to fool so it took at lot of effort to counter the typical advertising never a complete lie but also never the whole truth.

    In the end we the people won but it took real organization and money to get the whole truth out.

  19. Oh, Sheila. At least you’re consistent. Never simply disagree on policy when a personal attack feels so much better. I’m sure that anyone with whom you disagree, especially conservative, must be ignorant, corrupt or some combination of both.

    As for utility profits, they are guaranteed by regulation. Hence the term regulated rate of return. Solar or not, they’ll get theirs. Then why might 309 actually make sense? First, net metering currently allows customers to sell their self-generated product at full retail. The producers have no cost of administration, generation, distribution or anything else, but they sell product at a roughly 400% markup. Proponents point to environmental benefits. that’s fine, but wind, for instance, provides the same benefits at a much lower cost. But solar can’t currently compete on the wholesale market. So it’s no wonder the solar folks like full retail net metering.

    But the downside is that net metering increases rates for everyone else, and because of that fact, the current law severely limits how many people can participate in the program. Electric rates in Indiana have already been rising rapidly, largely due to increased environmental regulation that biases against historically cheap coal-fired generation. I’m not even weighing in on whether that’s good or bad, it’s simply a fact.

    As technology improves, and it is, the value proposition improves for alternative generators, including solar. That’s why the bill largely doesn’t take effect for several years. It assumes a decreasing cost of generation. In return for transitioning down to wholesale rates, it opens up the restrictions so more people can participate. There’s been little concern raised by wind generators, because they have become much more efficient over time, and can effectively compete in the market. Solar, at this point in time, still cannot. I note, however, that those who claim that I am demonizing solar overlook the fact that I authored the property tax break that made solar projects like the one at the Indy airport commercially viable.

    There are a large number of other policy issues in the bill, but if simply reading the words “distributed generation” causes your eyes to glaze over I won’t go further. Fun fact, though – the Legislative Services Agency determines the bill title, not the author. So even that cheap shot was based upon ignorance or malice. I’ll let you decide. Maybe it should just be a less than subtle signal to you that you might wish to actually learn something about an issue before you express an opinion on it.

  20. I’ve wondered why IPL would be willing or able to pay me 12 cents per kWh for power that I also buy from them for 12 cents per kWh. There’s a ready answer, which is that the avoided cost is for peak power, not just any power, so it should be worth more. My panels will be cranking out a lot of energy during those peak summer afternoons.

    Even so, I’d be OK if I only got, say, 11 cents. But 4 cents? That’s ridiculous and must be killed or defeated. For lessons we should look to other states where similar crazy measures may have been proposed and defeated.

  21. Don’t know if this will make all you Hoosiers feel better or worse, but this Hoosier, now living in Arizona, can tell you that Indiana and Hershman aren’t alone in attacking the growing home solar industry through reducing the benefits the home owner receives from solar net metering.

    It’s happening here in Arizona and all across the Country as the big electric utility companies can foresee the day coming when home solar becomes increasingly more efficient and less costly to install resulting in a collapse of their current business model. Although it sounds like Hershman’s bill is much more draconian than what’s being proposed in AZ.

    The AZ Utility Regulation Comm. has already voted to lower the amount the electric utilities have to pay solar owners under net metering — beginning later this year — on the basis that solar owners aren’t paying their fair share to support the grid to the determent of the rest of the utilities’ customers. The Electric Utilities here in AZ are moving to add increased solar capacity, but they favor large solar arrays that they own or control because they can make more money from them. The semi-good news in AZ is the Comm. voted to grandfather in the current net-metering rates for the next 20 years for anyone who already has solar installed.

    Also IMO, it’s doubtful these attempts are going to go away in Indiana or elsewhere for the foreseeable future. As is often the case, new technologies are economically disruptive, and there will be winners and losers. In AZ, the Solar industry, being led by Solar City, the largest installer of home solar that is owned by Tesla, the maker of electric cars and electric batteries, or more accurately by Elon Musk, is fighting against changing the net metering rules, although without too much success. Think it’s going to take awhile before this battle plays out.

  22. Hersh – You should know all about malice. Guaranteed returns to the utilities and thus the increase in “everyone else’s” bills ignore the fact that everyone else did not go to the expense of installing home generation facilities, so what’s your problem? Are you afraid of some competition for your deep pocketed campaign contributors, or that “everyone else” will install home generation facilities and must be legislatively cut off at the pass?

  23. I called and wrote to my senator and right wing representative. People on the right really need to be called.

  24. Nancy Papas; using the site you provided, one I had tried before, not all had phone numbers but, being deaf I couldn’t use them anyway. No E-mail addresses provided…discrimination against disabled, nothing new; any idea where to report that issue? Could this bill also be considered discrimination against seniors; I have already had rate increases January and February totalling approximately 35% increase. The IPL requested rate hike hasn’t gone through yet; is it part of S.B. 309 or is it only regarding the solar panel billing system?

  25. David F, My neighbors have solar on their roof and they complained about this new law too! They are thankful they will be grandfathered in.

  26. Sen. Hershman says that persons with solar arrays “sell” their power to the electrical utility under net metering. As one who has a solar array on my roof, the power I generate goes into the grid. I receive a credit from IPL for the power generated, which reduces or replaces the power I might take from the grid to run my house. I have simply reduced the amount of electricity taken from the grid and replaced it with electricity I generated. In effect, I “give” IPL my electricity. I still pay a monthly fee to IPL even in months when I make more electricity than I use. I think that is fair to IPL. They are getting the electricity from my power plant–which I paid for and installed–without the costs of buying coal or gas, and shipping it by railroad or pipeline. The fee will pay for maintenance of the grid infrastructure.

    I will be contacting my senator and Sen. Merritt, chair of the committee, to voice my extreme displeasure with this blatant venality.

    By the way, could Sen. Merritt be trying to curry favor with the utilities that were the chief clients of the railroad company he worked for?

  27. AgingGirl and everyone else,
    Tell your friends and relatives to call about this piece of legislation that eat into the very industry that promises to be the are of growth that replace those coal jobs that will be lost. Regardless of Mr. Trump’s promises, even if we give the stuff away, nobody will buy it.

    While many antediluvian laws are being proposed by federal and state people, maybe we can at least stem the tide. People are accustomed to the government offering a certain level of humanity that will be lost very soon, but as H.L. Mencken said, “Democracy is a theory that common people know what they want and deserve to get it, good and hard.” I think that’s going to happen.

  28. While I live in Florida, I have many friends and relatives who live in the Indianapolis area, and on their behalf, I object to this bill where the greedy seek legislative cover in getting richer than ever under some murky pretense of the protection of “someone else” consumers. Since when have giant monopolies had any concern for their customers absent a measure of competition?

  29. So then the only option is that if you have solar panels would be to bypass the meter not allowing any of your excess power to be sold back.

  30. Hersh:

    The cheap coal-fired power you cite is only cheap because the legislature has allowed the coal industry and utilities to drag their feet on paying for the environmental impacts of each of those industries, especially in Indiana. Of course this diminishes the air and water quality and impacts human health, but by god, the utilities are entitled to their profits at any cost, and you are entitled to those campaign dollars for protecting the utilities. IPL has recognized the problems w coal and has converted one of their plants to natural gas to remove the heavy metals and sulfur compounds from their exhaust streams. The solution is simple – solar power needs a more powerful and better funded lobby than coal. I’ll chip in for that.

  31. If the externalities of coal generated power were included in it’s price, alternative sources would be the standard. BH can explain this away as a regulated level of profit thus no one benefiting from the new law, but the reality is that a great number of people benefit in one way or another from the under-pricing of coal generated power. This is indeed an entrenched industry protecting itself.

  32. Sen. Hershman (2/3 @ 10:52 a.m.) asserts that “net metering increases rates for everyone else.” That proposition needs to be evaluated at the IURC rather than decided by legislative fiat in SB509. The majority of independent studies have concluded that the value of rooftop solar exceeds the retail rate of electricity from the regulated utilities. https://www.brookings.edu/research/rooftop-solar-net-metering-is-a-net-benefit/. Rooftop solar subsidizes everyone else, not vice versa.

  33. We need legislation to incentivize people to roof their homes and businesses with solar panels and install small wind turbines and generators. By doing this, we could eliminate the need for an electric grid for residences and small businesses over the next 20-30 years. This needs to happen for several reasons:

    1.The electric grid is inefficient. 30% of our electricity is lost to resistance in the transmission lines between Petersburg Indiana where it is generated and Indianapolis. If 30% of the gas you were pumping into your car spilled on the ground before it got into your tank, you would be upset. This is what happens with our electricity but most people don’t know.

    2. We cannot secure the power grid against Indiana thunderstorms, ice storms, squirrels accidentally committing suicide in substations, and drunk drivers, let alone terrorists and Putin. By generating power at the point of use, we can avoid widespread outages that take days and weeks to restore.

    3. In the long run, this will be cheaper, cleaner, and better for the environment.

    4. Wouldn’t it be cool to have the jobs and economic prosperity that the manufacture of solar panels, small wind turbines, small generators and household storage batteries would bring our state? We could be first to market if we act now.

    5. What a windfall for Purdue and other engineering schools if Indiana would support their research in this area!

  34. Please read my rebuttal article on Peacock Penache. It is lengthly, but explains the reasoning and purpose of changing the law. It is a one sided law and hurts people that do not have the means to install panels, renters, the elderly, and the poor. It pushes the expense onto other customers while solar owner demand the same as other customers. I am a 45 year electrician with 2 1/2 years of engineering and have taught apprenticeship school. Solar owners are not charged enough to even to pay for the meter reading. Bob Gooch

  35. No cost of generation, eh, Herschman? Panels just fell from the sky and installed themselves on rooftops?

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