IndianaDG Asks Sen. Merritt to Hold Committee Report on SB 309 Until Info Corrected on Existing Net Metering Rule

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   February 20, 2017  /   Posted in 2017 Indiana General Assembly, Net Metering  /   No Comments

February 20, 2017

Open Letter to Sen. Jim Merritt, Chair of the Senate Utilities Committee:

The owners of several Indiana solar companies and their customers are deeply troubled over what they believe are serious misrepresentations of Indiana’s current net metering rule during the discussion of SB 309 at the Senate Utilities Committee hearing Thursday, Feb. 16.

Many of them did not have a chance to watch the video of the proceedings until the weekend. When they did, they heard Sen. Brandt Herschman make some statements about the existing net metering rule in 170 IAC 4-4.2 to the committee that simply are not true.

In fact, some of his misstatements are so egregious we think they may have unfairly influenced Thursday’s committee vote. For this reason, we strongly urge the committee not to move forward on its report on SB 309 until these errors can be rectified. We also believe committee members should have a chance to change their vote after they receive the correct information.

First, Sen. Hershman said: "Currently, under existing net metering rules from the IURC, when any individual utility reaches the renewable part of their portfolio, that is people net metering, that is equal to 1% of their baseload generation, net metering goes away. Gone. No grandfathering, no guarantee, nothing except wholesale rates." That is false.

Second, in response to a question from Sen. Houchin, Sen. Hershman says and if the 1% net metering caps were met the utilities could go to a "buy all, sell all" mechanism under existing law. That also is false.

These inaccurate statements by Hershman already have gone viral on social media and may well cause Senate phone lines to further light up this week as a growing number of people learn of them.

We know your committee members want to be as well informed as possible as they work to sort through SB 309, and that they also value their credibility with the public. In that spirit, we implore you to reconvene the committee so this critical misinformation can be brought to light.

On behalf of solar energy companies who are members of IndianaDG and their customers, we thank you.

 

Laura Ann Arnold, President

Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance (IndianaDG)

 

 

 

 

Laura Ann Arnold, President

Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance (IndianaDG)

Laura.Arnold@IndianaDG.net

(317) 635-1701 office; (317) 502-5123 cell

 

CC: Members of the Senate Utilities Committee

KPC News.com: Fair solution needed for solar energy

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   February 19, 2017  /   Posted in 2017 Indiana General Assembly, Net Metering, solar, Uncategorized  /   No Comments

 KPC

KPC NEWS.COM

Fair solution needed for solar energy

(Sorry for formatting problems. Please click headline to read.)

Posted: Saturday, February 18, 2017 11:00 pm

Rep. Dave Ober, R-Albion is the new chair of the House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee. A bill involving solar energy is poised to hit his desk next month.

Ober expects to be the House sponsor of Senate Bill 309, which changes the rules for selling excess solar energy to utility companies.

Ober said the bill is taking up at least 80 percent of his time. It’s being cast as a battle between small solar energy users and utility companies.

“They see this as the big-monopoly utilities trying to muscle out the growing renewable energy in the state. I don’t see it that way,” Ober said.

Ober believes he can steer the bill toward a win-win outcome. Better yet, win-win-win, because the rest of us have something at stake, too.

“Net metering” is at the core of the issue, and Ober does a good job explaining it.

If you have solar panels on your roof, or outside a factory, you can have an electricity meter than runs both forward and backward. Sometimes you’re producing power and sending the excess back to your local utility. Sometimes you’re using more power than you’re making, so you’re drawing from the grid.

If you make 5 kilowatts of energy and use 6 kilowatts, you pay the utility company for 1 kilowatt.

Under present rules, you buy and sell the electricity at the same rate. A disputed feature of SB 309 would change that. The utility would buy it from you at a lower rate — the wholesale price it pays for other generated power — and sell it back to you at a higher retail rate.

One proposal, called “buy all, sell all,” says the utility would buy all of your kilowatts at the lower rate and sell all of its kilowatts back to you at the higher rate.

A “buy all, sell all” rule could be the nation’s worst for solar users, critics say. Utilities say it would be fair to other customers, because right now utilities are overpaying for solar electricity.

Under present rules, other customers are subsidizing solar-energy users, who don’t pay for maintaining the grid, the utilities say. Today, the subsidy may not amount to much. Indiana has fewer than 1,000 users of net metering, although the number is growing rapidly.

Another feature of the bill would set a time limit of 2027 for the practice of net metering.

Fans of solar power say the whole package would make it less attractive to use the sun’s energy in Indiana.

Ober sees an advantage for solar power users, however. It would give them certainty about how long they can count on net metering. That’s lacking now, he said.

The existing state rule says Indiana utilities must offer net metering until it reaches 1 percent of their peak demand. When it hits that level, they can end the program, Ober said. At least one utility — Duke Energy — is almost there.

“I don’t think many people understand that this program is uncertain in the future,” Ober said.

The bill would grandfather net metering for existing customers for 30 years or until their equipment wears out, Ober said. New solar users would know the rules for the next 10 years.

“This thing’s not chiseled in stone. It’s likely to change,” he added. He expects the “buy all, sell all” rule to be tweaked. Rates for buying and selling could be adjusted.

“We’re going to try and come up with a compromise that everyone can live with,” Ober pledged. “If the bill dies … we go into the future with quite a bit of uncertainty about how we treat our solar customers. I think that’s a disservice to them.”

Ober said he’s not against encouraging solar energy. However, he said, “The cost is coming down to the point where it’s not necessary to incentivize it as much as we have in the past.”

Ober told Midwest Energy News, “I hope I’ve built up a reputation in the Statehouse as someone who is a little more thoughtful in trying to find what’s good policy.”

We encourage Ober to keep building that reputation by finding a solar-energy solution that’s fair to everyone.

OUR VIEW is written on a rotating basis by Dave Kurtz, Grace Housholder, Michael Marturello and Barry Rochford. Publisher Terry Housholder is also a member of the editorial board. We welcome readers’ comments.

SB 309 seeks to drastically reduce value of privately produced solar power

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   February 19, 2017  /   Posted in 2017 Indiana General Assembly, Net Metering, solar, Vectren  /   No Comments

2-SolarPanels-2.jpg

Bill seeks to drastically reduce value of privately produced solar power

Local solar energy users are facing off against big utility companies this month over a proposed law that would drastically reduce the value of privately generated solar power in Indiana.

Senate Bill 309's supporters say solar users are overpaid for their power, and the bill sets a fairer price.

“People think this bill is anti-solar, and that’s just not true,” said Chase Kelley, a spokeswoman for Vectren.

But, critics fear the move could destroy Indiana’s budding solar industry.

“I’m very concerned for what affect this will have on the solar industry,” said Susan Sirnic, the leader of the Green Team at Bethlehem United Church of Christ, which recently installed a solar system on its church. “It would make it hard to recover your investment.”

Under current state law, utility companies are required to participate in an energy swap with solar users.

The process is called net metering. Solar users take electricity from the grid when their systems don’t produce enough energy to power their homes. But, when the panels produce more energy than the homes need, the excess power is sold back to the grid.

 By law, utility companies must pay solar users the full retail price for that power.

“Right now, all we’re doing is swapping kilowatt hours for kilowatt hours,” Sirnic said. “We receive the same retail rate that we pay.”

The problem, utility companies say, is the power is not worth that much.

“The retail rate includes more than the cost of the energy,” said Mark Massel, the president of the Indiana Energy Association, which is working to get the law passed. “It includes the cost to maintain the grid.”

About 30 percent of the retail price covers the cost of the electricity, Kelley said. The other 70 percent covers grid maintenance, customer service, meter reading, billing and energy efficiency programs.

When Indiana first established net metering in 2005, the system was designed to promote – and subsidize – solar users, Kelley said. Solar panels can cost a home owner tens of thousands of dollars to install, and it takes years for solar users to earn back their investments on the systems. Paying users retail rate for their power helped them earn that investment back quicker.

“It was always meant to be a subsidy,” Kelley said.

And it’s time for the state to lower that subsidy, she added. The cost of solar systems has dropped in the last decade since the state first introduced net metering.

More people are investing in solar systems, and the money they save through net metering is being passed to customers who don’t have personal solar power, Kelley said.

“There are a lot of people who can’t afford to invest in solar,” Kelley said. “They shouldn’t be forced to pay for people who do invest in solar.”

The bill’s opponent’s counter that the cost being deferred to non-solar customers is negligible, a few cents a month. Furthermore, they argue, there is a social and societal benefit to solar electricity.

Local solar installers are calling for the state to postpone changes to net metering laws long enough for an independent group to study the true cost and value of solar power to utility companies in Indiana. [emphasis added]

“There have been studies done in other states that show that the value of solar power is close to the retail rate,” said Ryan Zaricki, the president of Whole Sun Designs, an Evansville based solar system installing company. “It is so frustrating that (lawmakers) are so adamantly against a study. When they pull these numbers out, I keep saying, show me the study.”

If Senate Bill 309 passes, utility companies would be allowed to gradually reduce the rate that they pay solar users for their power to closer to the market rate for raw power.

The bill before the Senate this week, stipulates that anyone who installs solar systems before June 30 will receive the retail rate for the solar power they produce – for the next 30 years. After June 30, the bill allows utilities to gradually reduce the rate they pay.

“There is going to be an onslaught of people getting solar systems installed before that June 30 deadline,” Zaricki said. “We’re going to see a boom, and then it’s going to fall off. They call it the solar coaster.”

Editorial: Pull the plug on Indiana Senate solar net metering bill SB 309

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   February 19, 2017  /   Posted in 2017 Indiana General Assembly, Net Metering, solar, Uncategorized  /   No Comments

Pull the plug on Indiana Senate solar bill; more study needed to determine impact of net metering reduction

Solar energy offers a clean, renewable resource to power and heat homes, businesses, schools and other structures. Its popularity is growing. Still it accounts for only 1 percent of America’s energy.

Hoosiers using solar panels typically lower their utility bills. Homeowners and businesses that generate their own energy with solar panels can get credit on their power bills by routing any excess energy produced into the power grid. That infrastructure is owned by the large utility corporations.

As the Tribune-Star’s Alex Modesitt reported last week, most solar producers in Indiana receive about 11 cents for every kilowatt hour sold to the power grid, which is the retail rate. The practice is known as “net metering.” Utility companies pay only 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour for energy elsewhere. That mark-up, power companies insist, is unfair, especially because they must maintain and service the infrastructure. The corporations also say their non-solar-producing customers are essentially funding the higher solar credits.

The utility corporations want the Indiana Legislature to act on their behalf. State Sen. Brant Hershman (R-Buck Creek) proposed a bill to substantially reduce the reimbursement to people, businesses and other solar users who feed excess energy back to the grid. Changes under that bill would begin in 2022.

Power companies and Hershman present their case as a “reset [of] the marketplace.” The net metering rewards solar energy producers too generously, they contend.

The fledgling solar power industry, and individual Hoosier homeowners and business operators relying on solar panels, need consideration from lawmakers, too. The owner of a Terre Haute solar company said he would likely move his business across the state line to Illinois if the legislation passes. “The only people crying about net metering are the ones on the utility side,” he told Modesitt.

Indeed, lawmakers need to keep the utility corporations’ complaints in perspective. Those companies enjoy monopoly status in Indiana because of the “high costs associated with the duplication of infrastructure,” according to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. That monopoly status diminishes the utilities’ argument that the mark-up credited to solar-using homeowners, businesses and young solar energy firms is too generous. Also, power companies and affiliated political committees donated $76,000 during the past three years to the campaigns of state Senate members of both parties. Those power companies clearly have allies in the Statehouse.

As it is, the change could sideline new, small solar producing businesses, reduce the incentive for Average Joes and Janes to install solar panels, and leave solar energy development to those large power corporations.

This bill should be put on ice. The issue deserves more study.

– (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star

SB 500 fixing HOA solar problem passes 31-17

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   February 16, 2017  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   No Comments

SB 500 fixing HOA solar problem passes 31-17

Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) called down SB 500 for third reading and final passage in the Indiana Senate this afternoon shortly after 2:30 pm.

Sen. Freeman made a brief presentation, received no questions and no testimony from other Indiana Senators either for or against.

SB 500 3R Roll Call 31-17

THANK YOU Senator Aaron Freeman!

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