Solar bill advances to governor to sign or veto

By Katie Stancombe
TheStatehouseFile.com

 INDIANAPOLIS – A controversial bill that would reduce reimbursement rates for rooftop solar users passed its last hurdle in the General Assembly and now advances to the governor for his signature.

Senate Bill 309 passed the Senate floor for the final time with a 37-11 vote Monday.

Author Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, said modest changes made to the bill during the session have improved it. He said SB 309 would increase the threshold for more Hoosiers to benefit from net metering by 50 percent.

“Overall, I think this is a bill that will significantly increase the number of people who are able to participate in net metering and selling power back to the grid,” Hershman said.

Sen. Brandt Hershman authored the bill that reduces reimbursements for people who install solar panels on their homes.  Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, TheStatehouseFile.com

While the author said he thinks this legislation creates further investment for a more balanced energy policy in the state, opponents argue that it will remove incentives for those who might want to invest in solar energy in the future.

Currently, solar generators receive 11 cents per kilowatt-hour for extra energy they produce. That would now be dropped to a wholesale rate of three cents per kilowatt-hour, plus a 25 percent premium.

But Hershman disagreed.

“If we allow this to continue under the current policy system, I think at a certain point it will result in a very strong backlash and unsustainable shift onto other ratepayers,” Hershman said.

Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, said he had concerns about the bill in its original form, and would not vote for it because it was unfair. But he said that provisions made to the bill revised it dramatically, which changed his vote.

“We’re at a point now where this bill has been modified and changed, and it has some substantial benefits to it now,” Tomes said.

The bill, among other provisions, requires the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to publish results of recent rate reviews and study the rates utilities charge for backup power.

It would also encourage competitive procurement and cogeneration for larger energy producers.

But Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, argued that the extra amount net metering participants receive is what people are really concerned about.

“I was hopeful that at some point we would have some language in here that would send this discussion to the IURC so they can actually give a fair analysis of the reimbursement rate,” Stoops said.

The rate of 25 percent premium over wholesale was determined by Hershman, who said that is an arbitrary number modeled after he reviewed what other states have done.

Jodi Perras, Beyond Coal manager for the Indiana Sierra Club chapter, said she was disappointed with the Senate’s final vote.

“We are hoping that governor Holcomb will veto the bill and we’ll be working to ensure he has the information he needs to make the right decision,” Perras said, adding that the General Assembly has not done what it should to make sure this legislation is reasonable for Hoosiers.

“Other states have studied it, and required that utilities present the facts,” she said. “But in this case we have a legislature that’s rushing to take away people’s energy freedom without making sure there’s a full study of the issue.”

“Indiana is engaging in a forward looking policy that adjusts our laws to reflect the technological reality and changing energy generation mix,” Hershman said, “And does so in a way that is going to allow more people to use solar – not fewer.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb has seven days from the time the legislation lands on his decide to decide whether to sign or veto it. The bill could also become law without his signature.

 Katie Stancombe is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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