Walmart, GM, and more ask lawmakers to consider Missouri Energy Freedom Act

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   February 12, 2018  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   No Comments

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Several large companies are asking the Missouri General Assembly to consider free markets and consumer choice as a way to open up access to renewable energy.

Walmart, P&G, General Mills, General Motors, Cargill, Unilever, and H&M addressed a letter to Gov. Eric Greitens, Speaker of the House Rep. Todd Richardson and President of the Senate Sen. Ron Richard asking them to consider the Missouri Energy Freedom Act.

“We are writing because we believe that it is important to have choice when selecting energy suppliers and products to meet our business and public goals,” the letter said. “A law opening up access to renewable energy — like the Missouri Energy Freedom Act — would allow large electricity users like us to purchase renewable energy from third-party providers through long-term contracts and reduce our cost of doing business.”

At issue is power purchase agreements, contracts between a company and a third-party for renewable energy. Missouri law does not currently allow businesses to enter into contracts directly with non-utility energy service providers, such as a wind or solar farm.

“We believe that such a police — already proving itself in many states — would create a more competitive business environment and would help us to create jobs and contribute to an even more robust Missouri economy,” the companies, who employ thousands of people in Missouri, wire.

“The businesses on this letter are looking for more access to affordable renewable energy as part of their business strategy and their good citizenship,” said James Owen, Executive Director of Renew Missouri.  “We don’t want them looking to Iowa to find it.  Iowa offers much easier access to renewable energy and is attracting billions of dollars of investments and thousands of jobs from companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google.  They are moving to Iowa because they can get access to renewable energy there. They can not get it in Missouri, and that needs to change.”

According to the most recent Corporate Clean Energy Procurement Index: State Leadership Rankings, compiled by the Retail Industrial Leaders Association and the Information Technology Industry Council, Missouri ranked 32nd in the nation.

PPAs would allow the companies to avoid power price fluctuations, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, meet consumer preferences and save money that can be put back into businesses and passed on to customers.

“For Missouri, allowing PPAs will create more jobs and opportunity for those who build, install, and maintain renewable projects, keep Missouri competitive with many other states that allow companies access to renewable energy choices, and promote a clean and healthy environment,” the companies write.

They believe that the “establishment of free markets and consumer choice, which do not undercut the business of incumbent electric power suppliers, is important.”

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In Indiana, solar program assists with flurry of year-end installations

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   February 09, 2018  /   Posted in 2017 Indiana General Assembly, Net Metering, solar  /   No Comments

Michael and Beth Grieser got a 7.6 kW, 20-panel ground-mounted array through Solarize Indiana.

In Indiana, solar program assists with flurry of year-end installations

PHOTO BY

Solar installers in two Indiana communities rushed to finish projects before a state law limiting net metering took effect Jan. 1.

The deadline was fast approaching, and Brian Burkholder and his team at Solar Energy Systems in Northern Indiana rose to the challenge.

A state law passed last year phases out net metering, and only solar installed by Dec. 31, 2017, was grandfathered in to receive retail rates for energy sent back to the grid through 2047. Anyone who missed the deadline by even a day can only net meter until 2032.

So despite frigid and snowy weather, Burkholder and his employees worked hard — some skipping family vacations — to install as many systems as possible before the end of the year.

“They shoveled the snow off our roof and went right to work, with the temperature around 10 degrees, the windchill zero degrees. It was impressive,” said Joshua Weaver, a Goshen, Indiana, high school math and social studies teacher whose installation was done by Solar Energy Systems on Dec. 30.

The spike in installations was made possible largely by Solarize Northern Indiana, a group-buy program that made installations more affordable and helped would-be customers through the process. Solarize coordinator Leah Thill said the program has meant the installation of 97 projects, with 76 of them representing 536 kilowatts installed in 2017.

The program focused on Goshen and South Bend, bringing the Goshen area’s installed capacity up to 486 kilowatts and South Bend to 165 kW, with another 55 kW of solar capacity in other Northern Indiana towns.

Thill said Goshen now has 103 watts of solar PV installed per capita, which would place it ahead of solar meccas like Sacramento, Denver and San Francisco in 2017 per capita rankings. (Indiana’s growing solar capacity is detailed on this interactive map.)

“Adding solar panels has sort of been in our long-term goal, but we never really thought about it in concrete terms until Solarize came about,” said Weaver. “And because of the changes in the law we acted much quicker than we would have otherwise. It was a silver lining – the change in the law is frustrating, but with the climate we’re in, a lot of people who were thinking about solar acted on it.”

An act of faith

Weaver’s family is Mennonite — his wife is a pastor — and for them and others in their community, solar energy is in keeping with their faith and taking care of God’s creation.

Solarize volunteer Jerry Mohajeri, a founder and former board member of the Islamic Society of Michiana, likewise sees solar energy as an expression of faith. The Islamic Society installed 20 kW of solar in 2016 with the help of a $24,000 grant from Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light. He said the society has already earned back more than $4,300 through net metering.

“It took time convincing most of the board members” in 2014 when the idea for solar was hatched, Mohajeri said. “Many of them were against it because they didn’t think we would benefit. Now they’re more aware because they can see the reduction in their energy bills. It’s important that people consider this free energy they can get from the sun.”

Burkholder is Amish and has installed solar for many Amish families,who see solar as a way to be self-sufficient and supplement gas-fired generators.

Amish households are typically not connected to the grid, in which case the net metering deadline does not affect the economics of installing solar. The Solarize Northern Indiana group-buy makes both grid-connected and off-grid systems more affordable. As with most group-buys in other states and cities, group-buy contractors — like Solar Energy Systems — install panels for below market rate.

The average cost of an array under Solarize is $2.53 per watt for a basic 5 kW system, compared to about $2.80 per watt on the open market, according to a report by Solarize. Burkholder said in a statement that working through the program is much more efficient because — thanks to the legwork of Solarize volunteers — customers are already educated about their options when he meets them.

“This was a much easier process with having knowledgeable people to ask questions of and guide us through the process,” noted Beth Grieser, a teacher who along with her husband got a 7.6 kW, 20-panel ground-mounted array through Solarize.

Glenn Gilbert, director of facilities for Goshen College, said more people in the town of about 33,000 are likely to install solar as they see their neighbors’ arrays, despite the net metering phase-out. Gilbert installed 2 kW of solar in 2010, with Solar Energy Systems, when it cost about $9 a watt. “I was considering a money market account or other long-term investment, and this seemed like a better use of my money,” he said. “It’s not a risky investment.”

While the group-buy is now closed, more than 20 projects contracted under it are scheduled for installation in 2018. Meanwhile, a state bill has been introduced by Rep. David Ober (R) that would extend net metering until 2037, rather than 2032, for schools and municipalities that didn’t make the 2017 deadline.

A near miss

Phil Sakimoto did not get his installation up before the deadline because he is doing ground-mounted solar and the earth was frozen too solid for construction in December.

But he’s still eager to get solar panels through the group-buy, and he expects to earn back his investment with net metering in 14 years or less.

An astronomer who previously worked for NASA, Sakimoto is hyper-aware of climate change. He had long thought about getting solar panels, “but only got as far as thinking, ‘Oh gosh, I have to figure out who to call, get a bunch of bids, figure out how it’s going to work.’ Then Solarize popped up and made it all so simple.”

Sakimoto doesn’t think it’s wise to mount panels on the roof of his older house, so he decided on a ground-mounted installation that will also shade a sun porch that gets too hot.

“This is going to be great, I get my solar panels and awning all at once,” said Sakimoto, now a professor in the physics department and director of academic excellence at the University of Notre Dame. He is also working with Solarize to educate people about solar, and convening conversations at his church, where a solar installation could be in the works.

“It’s one thing to educate people about climate change and what we need to do in principle,” he said. “It’s another that people can actually stand up and do something.”

Public Interest Advocates Issue Open Letter to Governor on IURC Vacancy

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   February 05, 2018  /   Posted in Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), Uncategorized  /   No Comments

Media Contacts:

Kerwin Olson, Citizens Action Coalition, kolson@citact.org317-702-0461

Wendy Bredhold, Sierra Club, wendy.bredhold@sierraclub.org812-604-1723

Denise Abdul-Rahman, NAACP, inecjnaacp@att.net317-331-0815

Jesse Kharbanda, Hoosier Environmental Council, jkharbanda@hecweb.org317-979-3236

Mike Oles, Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light, mikeoles@hoosieripl.org317-281-0568

 

Public Interest Advocates Issue Open Letter to Governor on Utility Commission Vacancy

“Find a conscientious leader who will look out for the poor and the most impacted”

 

INDIANAPOLIS -- Feb. 5, 2018 -- Citizens Action Coalition, Hoosier Environmental Council, Indiana State Conference of NAACP, Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light and the Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter today released the following:

 

An Open Letter to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb:

 

In a few days, you will be sent three names from which to choose the next commissioner of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, and you will have to select a new chairman to replace Jim Atterholt, who recently retired. Hoosiers’ pocketbooks are affected by the Commission perhaps more than any other state agency, so your decision is vitally important.

For most Hoosiers, the Commission decides how much we pay each month for electricity, gas, water and sewers -- services we cannot live without. These services are, for most of us, provided by monopoly utilities, and the Commission is supposed to protect consumers because -- by design -- there’s no competition for these essential human services in the marketplace.

The Commission decides how much we pay in utility bills and whether a utility may build or update a power plant or invest in solar or energy efficiency.

In its Just Energy Policies Campaign, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) found that low-income communities, the elderly, and African Americans pay a disproportionate amount of their incomes on energy.  Low-income communities are “more likely to have water shut-offs and electricity shut-offs, thereby depriving them of essential services” and too often resulting in dangerous situations.  Nationally, an estimated 68% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant.

Also, women are more likely to have low incomes and are vulnerable to toxins from coal-fired power plants that affect their reproductive systems. Indiana’s high infant mortality rate is no coincidence, when you consider pollution from super polluter power plants.

According to the NAACP, most public utility commissioners in the United States are white, male, and mid- to high-wealth individuals. Two white men and two white women now sit on the Indiana Commission, with one vacancy. The candidates you are choosing from will add no racial inclusion; six of the seven are white males and one is a white female. The nominating committee, appointed by you and state legislative leaders, contains only white men.

Who will speak for Indiana’s most impacted populations when evidence comes before the Commission? Who will understand the difficulty many Hoosiers face due to declining incomes and rising costs? Who will have the courage to reject frequent, costly utility requests to keep operating aging power plants that are no longer needed, or that are too expensive to operate and maintain?

Last year, hundreds of residents in South Bend, Fort Wayne and Muncie turned out at Commission hearings to oppose a 19.7 percent rate increase proposed by Indiana Michigan Power. They told poignant, gut-wrenching stories of living in the cold and dark, or choosing between food, medicine and electric bills. In 2018, Indianapolis Power & Light is seeking a 28 percent increase that would bring the average home’s monthly base bill to $125 -- before taxes and other charges.

Governor Holcomb, in your recent State of the State address you said your focus in 2018 was going to be on “people, people, people” and your single purpose was “to make life better for all Hoosiers.” Therefore, we ask you to have the courage to break with what continues to be "business as usual." We urge you to put a pin in this selection process. Seize this moment to examine ways in which the candidates for this important administrative body are champions of low-income Hoosiers, and other groups who bear a disproportionate financial and health impact from IURC decisions.  

We urge you to consider the many Hoosiers who cannot pay their utility bills, who are affected by power plant pollution, and who lack access to clean energy and clean water. We urge you to find a conscientious leader who will look out for the poor and the most impacted more than the interests of financially healthy monopoly utilities.

We will be watching.

 

Kerwin Olson, Executive Director
Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana

Barbara Bolling-Williams, President
Indiana State Conference of the NAACP

Richard Hill, Executive Committee Chair
Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter

Jesse Kharbanda, Executive Director
Hoosier Environmental Council

The Rev. T. Wyatt Watkins, Board Chair
Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light

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Ask your State Senator to Support SB 207 to fix HOA solar problem

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   February 01, 2018  /   Posted in 2018 Indiana General Assembly, Uncategorized  /   No Comments

pv panels 2

These are solar electric or photovoltaic (PV) panels.

Please ask your Indiana State Senator to vote for SB 207 to fix the HOA solar problem in Indiana introduced by Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis).

Sen. Aaron FreemanIndiana State Senator Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis)

SB 207 DIGEST

Homeowners associations and solar power. Prohibits a homeowners association from adopting or enforcing certain rules, covenants, declarations of restrictions, and other governing documents concerning solar energy systems after June 30, 2018.
 To better understand this HOA solar issue please see our previous post which contains a link to a YouTube video.
Although this previous post does a good job of explaining the problem, IndianaDG member and solar homeowner Joey Myles has also prepared a set of Frequently asked Questions and Answers which may also help in your conversations with state lawmakers.

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers on SB 207 and the Homeowner Association (HOA) Solar Problem in Indiana

 

Q: What is the HOA solar problem in Indiana?

A: There are HOAs which either 1) prohibit homeowners from installing solar or 2) unreasonably restrict a homeowner from installing a solar energy system. See this Indianapolis Star article – https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2018/01/18/hoas-rain-homeowners-solar-parade-residents-property-rights/1024741001/.

 

Q: Doesn’t SB 207 interfere with existing private contracts (HOA covenants)?

A: No.  The bill is prospective and only affects HOA governing documents that become effective after June 30, 2018.  We do hope the passage of SB 207 will encourage HOAs to voluntarily change existing covenants which prohibit solar as well.  Additionally, this bill is not meant to curtail the authority of HOAs.  Rather, the goal is to provide objective guidance for evaluating solar panel requests that is sorely lacking in too many HOA covenants throughout Indiana.

 

Q: But I didn’t think an HOA could prohibit solar because there is a state solar rights law?

A: No, not as it pertains to HOAs and solar.  Indiana Code (IC) 36-7-2-8 states, in part:

 

IC 36-7-2-8 Solar energy systems; ordinances; reasonable restrictions

(b) A unit [see definition below] may not adopt any ordinance which has the effect of prohibiting or of unreasonably restricting the use of solar energy systems other than for the preservation or protection of the public health and safety.

(c) This section does not apply to ordinances which impose reasonable restrictions on solar energy systems. However, it is the policy of this state to promote and encourage the use of solar energy systems and to remove obstacles to their use. Reasonable restrictions on solar energy systems are those restrictions which:

(1) do not significantly increase the cost of the system or significantly decrease its efficiency; or

(2) allow for an alternative system of comparable cost and efficiency.

 

IC 36-1-2-23 "Unit"

Sec. 23. "Unit" means county, municipality, or township.

 

Therefore, this statute does not apply to HOAs, which is why SB 207 is needed in statute.

 

Q: But I thought solar panels hurt property values?

A: Actually, it’s just the opposite – solar panels increase property values, as evidenced by the January 13, 2015 study, “Selling Into the Sun: Price Premium Analysis of a Multi-State Dataset of Solar Homes,” conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (see full study at https://emp.lbl.gov/sites/default/files/lbnl-6942e.pdf).  The study states, in part:

“We find that home buyers are consistently willing to pay PV [solar photovoltaic] home premiums across various states, housing and PV markets, and home types; average premiums across the full sample equate to approximately $4/W [Watt] or $15,000 for an average-sized 3.6-kW [kilowatt] PV system.”

 

Also, other studies have found that when people see solar on a home, it makes them then want to go solar themselves.  Solar panels on homes tend to attract people to those neighborhoods and solar panels increase the sustainability of one’s home.

 

Q: Isn’t there another way to fix this problem, such as circulating a petition around your neighborhood?

A: In Indiana, HOA covenants can require up to 75% support to amend.  If you live in a neighborhood that bans or otherwise unreasonably restricts solar and you have hundreds of homes, that can be extremely burdensome and costly.  One such homeowner experiencing an HOA solar problem in Westfield lives in a neighborhood of approximately 1,200 homes and the threshold to amend the covenants is 75%, meaning he would have to get at least 900 homeowners to support him.  Additionally, HOA bylaws may call for the petition to be created by an “attorney-in-fact,” meaning you would need to have at least a limited Power of Attorney and each signature would need to be notarized.

 

Q: But aren’t solar panels ugly?

A: That’s subjective and depends on one’s perception.  This is in the eye of the beholder.  First, we need to differentiate between the language typically found in HOA covenants, particularly “solar heat panels” and “solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.”

  • Many HOA covenants today ban “solar heat panels,” which is an obsolete technology that was used many years ago to heat homes using solar power. These panels were somewhat bulky and raised far off the roof, as shown in the below photographs.

 

Pictures of solar heat panels

solar heat panels 1

solar heat panels 2

  • Solar PV panels, which are used to produce electricity, are flush-mounted parallel to a roof and only raised a few inches off the roof. Additionally, the wiring is kept neatly tucked away to minimize view and many solar panels today are made with a non-glare surface, as to not blind people, including pilots flying commercial airplanes.  Also, solar PV panels can now be installed in one color, instead of having a black or blue panel and silver trim.

 

Pictures of solar PV panels

pv panels 1

pv panels 2

Q: Okay, but what about Tesla’s solar shingles?  Wouldn’t that look better?

A: The Tesla solar shingles, known as the Solar Roof, are not yet available in Indiana and won’t be until 2019.  Also, the Solar Roof is very, very expensive.  One homeowner, whose solar PV system cost $28,800, found that Tesla estimated for their home, the Solar Roof would cost over $59,000!  And coupling that with Indiana’s low electric rates, the payback was over 35 years.  Even the Tesla representative advised the homeowner that because of Indiana’s low rates, the Solar Roof would not make economic sense at this time.

 

The cost of solar PV panels is rapidly dropping and it is unknown at this time how long it will take the Solar Roof to become cost competitive.

 

Q: What are the other reasons this legislation is needed in Indiana?

A: Here are other reasons:

  • Energy freedom and choice; less reliance on the grid.
  • The ability to take personal responsibility for one’s own energy future.
  • Purchasing a solar energy system allows you to hedge future increases in electric utility costs.

If you contact your state senator about supporting SB 207, please let us know what they say.  Send an email to: Laura.Arnold@IndianaDG.net. Thanks!

SB 207 will be on the Indiana State Senate Calendar next Monday, February 5th or Tuesday, February 6th for third reading and final passage.

Please act today.

Don't know who your state senator is? Visit http://iga.in.gov/legislative/find-legislators/

Bad KY Net Metering Bill-HB 227 -Scheduled TODAY

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   January 31, 2018  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   No Comments
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01/31/2018 15 Min. Upon Adjournment of the House, Annex Room 154
Agenda: Bills for Consideration Bills •

HB 227 - AN ACT relating to net metering.

 

Members: Rep. Jim Gooch (Chair), Rep. Chris Fugate, Rep. John Blanton, Rep. Larry Brown, Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, Rep. Matt Castlen, Rep. Tim Couch, Rep. Jeffery Donohue, Rep. Jim DuPlessis, Rep. Daniel Elliott , Rep. Kelly Flood, Rep. Dennis Keene, Rep. Brian Linder, Rep. Reginald Meeks, Rep. Suzanne Miles, Rep. Steve Riley, Rep. Jim Stewart, Rep. Jim Wayne, Rep. Jill York

Watch the hearing on-line via Kentucky Educational Television:

https://www.ket.org/legislature/

Copyright 2013 IndianaDG