Another Step Backward for Indiana

Well, they did it. The House passed Senate Bill 309–an assault on clean energy, specifically solar energy. It will next go to the Governor, who is unlikely to veto it.

Here is how I have previously described this bill.

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.

I am hardly the only critic of this gift to Indiana’s utility companies.

The Republic, the Columbus, Indiana newspaper, was equally unimpressed with the legislation.

Indiana Senate Bill 309, introduced by Sen. Brandt Herschman, proposes to fundamentally change Indiana’s solar energy policy. The proposed modifications to the state’s net energy metering program are based on a lack of evidence and faulty logic, and would severely undermine the future of solar power in the state. Indiana legislators should oppose this bill.

The Republic article pointed out the importance of the net metering policy for Indiana, “since the state lacks other common policy measures to encourage solar energy development.” I’m shocked to discover that Indiana is not on the cutting age of energy innovation….

Opponents of the bill argued that lowering the amount of the credit will all but eliminate the incentive to invest in solar energy in the future. (I can attest to that; my husband and I were thinking of installing rooftop solar, and had been pricing our options. When this bill passed, we changed our minds.)

Representative Carey Hamilton–one of the most environmentally knowledgable members of the Indiana legislature–argued that the task of determining rates should be left to the IURC, rather than the legislature. During the committee hearing, when Hershman admitted that he had “come up with” the rate in the bill himself, she said

“A random decision by one of our colleagues for a rate is not how we should be making important decisions.” …

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, who opposed the bill, pointed out that it creates uncertainty for small businesses and Hoosiers investing in the solar industry.

“We had six hours of testimony, and the only people who were in favor of it were the utilities,” Pierce said. “All of the other four and a half, five hours of testimony were people saying, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’”

Why are Indiana’s legislators doing this?

Because they can.

Safe seats, courtesy of the gerrymandering that Senator Hershman denies we have (despite being one of its top beneficiaries), allow our legislators to ignore their constituents’ opinions and interests, confident that they will face no repercussions at the polls.

Hoosiers live in a state where the legislators choose their voters, rather than the other way around. It is a system that positively guarantees bad public policies.

UPDATE: It appears that there is one more Senate vote required–the Senate must approve the bill with the changes made by the House. As I understand it, that vote takes place today. Call your State Senator and ask him/her to vote NO.

22 thoughts on “Another Step Backward for Indiana

  1. Sheila, when you come to speak in my county I am hoping that you will be able to point out the problems that gerrymandering has caused. Until people actually understand this they will continue to unkowingly vote in favor of corporate interests and complain that nothing changes. The Rs have done an amazing job of instilling into those voter’s minds that their enemy is the poor who rely on welfare and food stamps. We need to educate them that their real enemy is corporate interests with deep pockets. I might add that those deep pockets keep getting deeper thanks to the people who keep voting in Rs.

  2. It is NOT a representative democracy. Can we at least stop pretending that one exists?

    I’ve stated all along that we have a Kleptocracy. The thief, in this case, is clearly identified. Utility companies have deep pockets and bribe officials with lots of cash. Other players benefit like our coal loving Koch brothers. I’m sure Duke Energy has spread their wealth to our Indy lawmakers.

    It has never been about the constituents. When our press holds the Donor Class accountable, we’ll see changes. Until then, enjoy our Kleptocracy where ALL the gains flow upward.

  3. And, apparently, the IPL rate increase request has been approved…after the fact of many of us receiving rate increases along with the notification of IPL’s request for that rate increase. Our rights as private citizens trying to maintain, and occasionally improve our property, continue to be infringed upon and/or ignored – if not repealed – as we move back in time. When living in Florida (1994-2001); I had a solar heating system installed for my in-ground swimming pool; it was relatively inexpensive to install and barely raised my monthly power bill when in use. The Marion County Storm Water Utility Fee, depending on the amount of actual ground area on our property to absorb rainwater, went into effect on our property taxes in 2015. We are all inundated with offers of “reasonable insurance rates” for our power lines and underground water and/or power utilities which suddenly became our personal property. The air we breathe and the water we drink is already taxed but will be unprotected from hazardous waste disposal by all utilities and big businesses.

    “Another Step Backward For Indiana” reminded me of that old (1951) hit song by Eddie Fisher:

    Turn back the hands of time
    Roll back the sands of time
    Bring back the dream devine
    Let’s live it over again.

    The moves backward in time by our current government officials never includes the cost; only denial of our rights, the safety of our lives and ability to improve our situation.

  4. Shelia, if you want to install solar I’d do it this year. if you get it installed before (I believe) the end of 2017 you are grandfathered in and get 30 years of the original/current reimbursement rate. Grab it before it’s gone.

  5. Can you clarify? Net metering is usually understood to mean that you use what you need in your own house, and you sell the excess to the utility (and yes, often at a massively deflated cost); when your own panels are not generating enough electricity to run your house (say, at night), then you purchase what you need from the utility at retail cost. They are basically charging you to time-shift your production vs usage. From what you have written, it seems like you are saying that you would have to sell *all* of your production to the utility and then buy back *all* of what you need, essentially forcing the solar panel owners to be generating plants for the utility in return for a modest discount on their energy bills.

  6. And yet the Democrats remain timid. John Gregg for governor. Give me a break.

    The Democrats should be screaming in the ears of every Hoosier. THESE REPUBLICANS ARE CROOKS STEALING YOUR MONEY!!!

    Just like Drumpf did with the “Crooked Hillary” brainwashing. Except the Democrats, if they had the guts to do so, could prove it.

  7. I never cease to be amazed at how hard some folks can work to move backward. But this wasn’t really work. It was the simple payment of IOUs for campaign financial support for re-elections. It’s only beneficiaries are obviously the you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours members of the legislature and the investors of the utilities. To quote our inept President….SAD. And did I read that the Museum for Coal in Kentucky is installing solar panels on its roof? So how backward can this Indiana legislative action be! Thank goodness nothing done in the legislature is permanent….it is all until it is amended in a future session. But in Indiana, when will there be the election of enough forward thinking legislators to reverse this?

  8. This looks, sounds and smells like a koch bros model legislation bill. They have tried for a long time to get the cost of solar cells way up so petroleum products can better compete. They have even pushed raising taxes on solar units-anything to put more money in the koch bros till.

  9. Too bad the horse and buggy era is not a big campaign contributor and beneficiary of gerrymandered districts whose politicians have no fear of public disapproval – we could outlaw horseless carriages and other forms of motorized transportation. Faulty logic and not in the public interest? Think again; logic and the public interests are not involved ’cause them what’s got the gold makes the rules. Setting prices legislatively by free market-loving Republicans? Why not? You can do most anything when gerrymandering allows you to openly represent special interests instead of people, but why would you do something so plainly at odds with the public interest? Because, as Sheila notes, you can, and them what’s got the gold. . . .

  10. Once again, Indiana does not look to the future of our economy. This should be a no brainer. We need to encourage investment in renewable energy, not inhibit it growth.

  11. This surely cannot stand as law. “Requiring you to sell” your production cheap and then ‘requiring you to buy” it back? Capitalism it’s not. Theft it is.

  12. There’s a couple of obsolete beliefs that big energy needs to be true in order to maintain profitability. The big one is that highly centralized power geration is necessary. The second one is that energy has to come from fuel.

    Of course both are wrong thanks to modern technology.

    So big power has enlisted their minions in government to impose those beliefs through law so that their failure to adapt by accepting that they are an energy service not a fuel outlet, is rendered inconsequential.

  13. Stephen; I find myself wondering what else they may decide we should be forced to “sell” to them then “buy it back”…our furnaces and/or air conditioners? The onset of Hoosier fascism?

  14. I’m really unclear on this too. If you have solar, or a wind turbine, does this mean any and all electricity you generate to be used in your own home, or barn, has to be turned into the utility first at wholesale, and bought back at retail? (How would they even know? Do they hire a lot of revenooers to come check what you are doing on your own property?) What if you just dump the excess electricity and don’t feed it back into the grid? Or does it mean any excess electricity you generate, that you don’t use yourself, that is sold to the utility, will be at wholesale prices, and any extra you need will be bought at retail? Which is, after all, a normal, necessary business practice, which allows a distributor to handle the costs of dealing with unstable sources of electricity, and redeploy them. It seems to me that the first structure, that if anything you generate for yourself, on your own property, from equipment you own, or rent, like a generator, for instance, has to be sold first to the utility, that would run smack into private property laws, and even the constitutional requirement that the government can’t just take away your stuff as they choose. If it’s the second structure, that any excess power you don’t use, is sold at wholesale, then that’s not bad. I foresee a growing business in big batteries, like Tesla’s wall battery, for your excess, allowing you to buy even less electricity from the grid in future.
    There is a much bigger problem here, generated by changes in technology. We have a grid. It needs to be in good shape. It is responsible for most of the electric needs in the country. It needs to be efficient, and I suspect it is a lot more efficient than a lot of different little home set ups, that sometimes work, and sometimes don’t. If you don’t have a good dependable viable grid, you look more like India, or 18th century US. The rich can afford to power themselves, the poor can use kerosene lamps. No one takes care of national security overall power needs. Not everyone can cut themselves off from the grid entirely and become self sufficient. Many people don’t live in physical situations where they can do that. Even more can’t afford the capital outlay and maintenance for private energy production. Which leaves you in a similar position to the problems of the ACA. If everyone doesn’t buy insurance, and only the sick buy it, then prices are sky high and the thing collapses. My beef with legislators is not always partisan, but more and more it’s because they don’t seem to be intelligent or creative enough to study the real problem, and work out solutions. In this case the solution would be transitional, because the technology is transitional, and needs to focus on keeping the grid healthy, while increasing the use of well distributed clean energy sources. There are some problems with widely distributed sources that are privately owned. They are unpredictable, for one. You can’t start counting on someone’s regular household output, and then have them go on vacation, or get old and stop maintaining their system, or sell their house to someone who doesn’t want to deal with solar. I’ll bet that unpredictability costs the utility in managing what is sometimes excess, and sometimes drought. This is a nuts and bolts problem. It’s not partisan. You really don’t want your local or regional grid to collapse, and you do want to use more and more cleaner sustainable forms of energy. I think it’s time not just to protest, but in large numbers to go to legislators with ideas. They obviously need the help.

  15. Aimee Y., you have it right. Your state thinks you need to do power companies a favor by building your own generating source so the utility can buy and sell the power you generate back to you. Soon to be a perfectly legal scam.

  16. Others have commented on the absurdity of a law requiring customers with solar installations to sell all their production to the monopoly utility and buy it back at retail rates. I wonder whether this can possibly be compatible with antitrust law. Could that be the foundation for a legal challenge to this absurd law?

  17. I fully agree with everything you wrote. I have a question, one which I have asked many people without receiving a clear response: why, since IPL is a monopoly, does it spend millions on advertising? The same question applies to Citizens Energy, which dubs itself the “unofficial sponsor of toasty” on big billboards. These utilities disconnect poor people when they can’t pay, and charge an arm and leg (relative to the financial ability of poor people who couldn’t pay their bills in the first place) for reconnection, and also late fees. They appeal to the rest of us to pay into a fund to help out the needy, but why should a utility monopoly ever need to advertise about how wonderful they are? It’s not like we have alternative choices for power or gas, like they do in some other states–Texas, for instance. Please explain it to me, because I don’t get it.

  18. Sheila Kennedy I appreciate all you have and continue to do to raise awareness of a progressive point of view in this state. Unfortunately you have done a disservice to that cause in the case of SB 309. You are uninformed of its status and are spreading inaccurate information. It is not en route to the governor. It returned to the Senate after the House vote where it’s up on a motion to concur. You are misdirecting callers to the governor when they should be first calling on senators to defeat the motion to concur.

  19. Kevin–Please note that the post was updated earlier today to reflect that Senate approval of the House version was still needed, and that readers should call their Senators.

  20. Another expression of appreciation to you Sheila Kennedy for updating your article with the correction that it went from the House vote back to the Senate , not the governor. Unfortunately it’s human nature for many of us to read a portion of an article rather than get all of the way to the bottom. The update needs to go at the top of the article.

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