No Merit In Merritt?

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 J.D. Ford, it would  have repealed last year’s highly controversial and damaging measure phasing out net metering in Indiana.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.

14 thoughts on “No Merit In Merritt?

  1. He seems like an unusual choice for the Republicans. He doesn’t exude a vision for the city. Hogsett may have had a few stumbles, but at least he has some ideas for taking Indianapolis out of the 19th century.

  2. At the former Eastgate Mall site, on the Shortridge Road side, there is row after row of solar panels. The City has taken over that site (which remains in deplorable condition); who benefits by those many solar panels? There is also a Community IMPD office and the Prosecutor’s Office has an office in that building; no idea what else is housed there but it appears there are too many solar panels to account for powering that building. Residents privately owned solar panes and stored energy is already endangered by Merritt, et al.

    As for Merritt’ history; in 1991 Mayor Bill Hudnut asked that a study of abandoned building, concentrating on abandoned housing, be done by the Department of Metropolitan Development. We began by questioning contractors, businesses, neighborhood organizations and word spread due to interest of schools, churches and individuals; the lengthy study report resulted in magazine form and an all day conference was needed to expand and report results. Senator James Merritt was a keynote speaker on the subject “Unsafe Building Amendments in 1991: General Assembly”. At that time there were an estimated 4,500 – 5,000 abandoned, unsafe buildings in Marion County. The last report I saw estimated 10,000 and the number was rising. The Indianapolis Star journalist Brian Eason reported the escalating problem in a series of articles, “Abandon Indy”, all leading back to one tax law being the crux of the problem. Mr. Eason is no longer with the Star and the issue pops up on occasion but results seem to continue being promised without fulfillment.

    Republican Senator Mike Delph, Carmel, proposed bills 2 years in a row to fine employers who knowingly hire and landlords who knowingly rent to illegal immigrants but Merritt knocked both bills down. He stated that was an issue for the federal government – which has done nothing to remedy the escalating immigrant situation for decades leading to Trump and his wall.

    As an aside; I posted a number of comments on Merritt’s web site regarding the immigration issue; asking him to support Senator Delph’s bills. He finally responded asking for my evening phone number so “we can talk about this issue”. I responded that I am deaf and can only communicate via E-mail…never heard another word from him. My guess is he wanted nothing in print.

    Senator Delph also proposed a bill to aid those suffering under the outrageous amounts of student loans. Merritt again knocked down the proposed bill. Republican against Republican and Indiana residents continue to suffer thanks to Merritt.

    Merritt’s 33 years of working against benefits for his constituents and all residents of the state of Indiana is evident; his support of utilities over struggling residents is “hitting below the belt”. His continuing work against common sense gun laws in this state is responsible for the continuing death toll of Indiana residents. What exactly does he have to offer the City of Indianapolis to warrant even consider placing his name on the primary list for Mayor of our already troubled city thanks to his more than three decades as Representative?

  3. Oops, another mea culpa, this time due to my poor math skills. Merritt has been in the Senate 28 years or more, not 33.

  4. We were fortunate enough to have our solar panels installed befor SB 309 was passed. That means that the excess power we produce one month comes back to us in another where our panels produce less power than we used. This applies to the next thirty years for our installation. Then we are subject to the provisions of SB 309. The bill gives households that install solar after January 1, 2018 fifteen years before the provisions Sheila cites go into effect. Fifteen years may or may not be adequate time for a system to pay for itself. That depends on where panels are installed, the accuracy of the installers estimate of the size of the system needed and the honesty of the installer. If more than one percent of Hoosier bite the financial bullet and install solar, we all lose the benefit of banking the excess power we produced. This legislation is artfully evil. The provisions to quash solar are complex and not widely understood. Ther have a lot of ‘merritt’ for the utility companies but none at all for Indiana citizens.

  5. Hey JoAnn. I was the city planner who wrote that Abandoned Building Report. As the problem only doubled in numbers, and I saw next generation of planners contemplating the same solutions — which entailed changing stste law- I concluded the IN state legislature is the single biggest deterrent to moving IN forward. As for Merritt — I am calling his office today to demand he vote for the Anti-hate crime bill. Let’s see how he handles that!!!

  6. Senator Merritt will surely be rewarded by the utilities with massive dark money campaign donations.

    That money will be put to very good use to attack the current Mayor when campaigning starts in earnest.

    Good luck Indy residents. I hope he is soundly defeated.

  7. Alison; due to some of your comments, I have wondered if that was YOU out there. I was so proud of the work we did on abandoned housing; still have both of my reports. The law at the base of the escalating problem doesn’t even make sense; selling only the tax lien leaves no one responsible for protecting the properties from the elements or the criminals. Selling blocs of those houses to out-of-state developers who seem to forget about them, appears to simply be a tax write-off.

    I have mentioned here a few times my interest in assistance for those evicted by developers who gentrify older areas. Most of these people are low-income, seniors and disabled; and too many developers are, again, out-of-state and lured here by the tax incentives. I have friends (one of them a commenter here) facing eviction from 222 South Downy Avenue; they are low-income, senior and disabled. Cannot possibly maintain current bills and save for the required “move-in” expenses if they do find a place they can afford. They really need help and I have run out of sources to contact.

  8. What is irksome in the extreme is how one man can completely stop the process – “Merritt refused to give it a hearing”. Similar to the maneuver McConnell made with Obama’s candidate for the Supreme Court.

    This one man in command concept may work in the military, and it is the way dictatorships operate. However, we are looking at here a legislative body, that is not the military or a dictatorship.

    Just so know Jim Merritt has a 100% rating by Advance America. Advance America, from WIKI – Advance America regularly campaigns for issues that they perceive affect the family and religious freedom. They supported the controversial Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act as well as pushing to uphold the state’s same sex marriage ban. They have opposed extending regulations on day cares to include those day cares run by churches.

    Jim Merritt was endorsed by National Rifle Association, Jim Merritt was endorsed by Indiana Right to Life, Jim Merritt, receives an 73% rating from Americans for Prosperity – Indiana.
    Americans for Prosperity (AFP), founded in 2004, is a libertarian/conservative political advocacy group in the United States funded by David H. Koch and Charles Koch.

    So, Merritt’s refusal to even have hearing makes perfect sense given his approval rating by AFP and who funds it.

    Jim Merritt certainly fits into the category of, “Welcome to Indiana and set your clocks back 50 years”.

  9. Democrats: Investment and progress for we the people.

    Republicans: Lower expenses and higher profit making privatization for Party donors.

    Now, imagine 30 years of government by each party.

    Yes, it would be that bad.

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