Jim Merritt wants to be the Mayor of Indianapolis. It seems timely, then, to evaluate whether his performance in the statehouse has been in the best interests of those of us who live in the city he wants to lead.
His most recent performance fails that test.
During this session, a really important bill was sent to the Senate Utilities Committee, which Merritt chairs. Introduced by Sen. J.D. Ford, it would have repealed last year’s highly controversial and damaging measure phasing out net metering in Indiana.
Merritt refused to give it a hearing.
Net metering is a billing arrangement between a customer who has a renewable energy system—typically solar panels—and the customer’s electric utility. When the system generates more electricity than the customer uses, the excess gets added to the grid and the customer gets credited at the same rate the utility charges when the customer is purchasing energy from the grid. Even though it’s an even swap, however, the customer also pays the utility an amount sufficient to cover its overhead costs–billing, meter reading, etc. Fair enough.
Net metering benefits utilities, customers and the general public by increasing grid resiliency and security, reducing carbon emissions, and reducing toxic air emissions.
But Senate Bill 309, passed last year, phased net metering out. Instead, it required customers to sell all of the electricity they generate to the utility at a much lower price than the utility charges its customers, and then buy back what they need at the “retail” price.
As I calculated it at the time, utilities would pay customers somewhere between 2.5 and 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour, but customers would have to buy it back at retail rates between 11 and 16 cents per kilowatt hour. It effectively priced rooftop solar and small-scale wind generation out of Indiana’s market–at a time when other states were encouraging it.
An Indianapolis Star investigation looked at how such laws have played out in other states, as well as the impact of the bill’s introduction, and warned that SB 309 “could put an entire industry at risk of stagnation at best — and, at worst, collapse.”
The Columbus’ Republic accurately summarized the bill at the time as a “fundamental change to Indiana’s solar energy policy,” based “on a lack of evidence and faulty logic”and warned that it would severely undermine the future of solar power in the state.
The newspaper called the measure a “Trojan Horse,” and ended with a plea to Indiana legislators to defeat the bill.
A number of legislators opposed the measure. Representative Carey Hamilton–one of the most environmentally knowledgeable 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, Brant Hershman–the bill’s sponsor– admitted that he had “come up with” the rate in the bill himself.)
Rep. Matt Pierce, who also opposed the bill, pointed out that it would create uncertainty for small businesses and Hoosiers investing in the solar industry. Pierce also pointed out that there had been six hours of testimony, and the only people in favor of the bill were the utilities.
Senator Ford’s bill was a welcome effort to reverse what every knowledgeable observer considers bad policy. Senator Merritt refused to hear it.
I assume the utilities are properly grateful. Voters shouldn’t be.