Indiana consumer groups hope utility hearing will streamline alternate energy regulations
By Chelsea Schneider
Posted May 22, 2014 at 6:56 p.m., updated May 22, 2014 at 7:22 p.m.
INDIANAPOLIS — Consumer advocacy groups want to see the process Hoosiers
have to follow to set up renewable generators, such as wind turbines or solar panels,
They hope a complaint before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission by an
Evansville-based solar and small wind energy contractor will serve as the vehicle for
State regulators conducted a hearing on a complaint filed in 2013 by Morton Solar on
Thursday but a ruling will be issued at a later date.
The complaint deals with allegations by Morton Solar that Vectren Corp. impeded its
customers' renewable energy projects by delaying interconnection agreements. The
agreements are issued as part of the process if a consumer wants to connect a wind
turbine or solar panel to the company's power grid.
Technology has advanced since the interconnection rules were established in 2006,
said Jennifer Washburn, an attorney for Citizens Action Coalition.
"It slows down the advancement of net metering and renewable generation and
customer generation," Washburn said, "and the ability of folks to lower their bills and
produce their own generation."
Vectren has approximately 60 customers in its net metering program, which offers
credits on a utility bill if a customer's renewable generator produces more electricity
than they need.
Robert Johnson, an attorney representing Morton Solar in the IURC complaint, said
he hopes the case helps customers seamlessly connect to Vectren's system and for
the utility to "overall become more based on homegrown renewable energy."
Vectren spokeswoman Chase Kelley said the company supports net metering and
the number of customers has grown consistently year over year.
"We have worked to enhance our customer communication and application process
and make it easier for customers to understand the requirements to engage in net
metering by posting all materials online and allowing forms to be completed and
submitted electronically," Kelley said.
Kelley said the hearing also showed Vectren wasn't attempting to delay or deter
customers from utilizing net metering.
"All customers who have applied and met the requirements, including the small
handful that were part of this case, had and continue to have active net metering
service and are receiving the benefits," Kelley said.
At the hearing, Johnson questioned Tom Bailey, Vectren's director of sales, on
whether renewable energy hurt the company's profits. Bailey said while "revenue
would be reduced," the less energy Vectren sells, he acknowledged the momentum
toward solar energy seen in the past decade.
"I think it's going to be a part of the resources going forward, and so personally, no, I
don't think it is troubling, I think we'll have to learn to adapt," Bailey said.
Morton Solar owner, Brad Morton, said it was "mandatory" for the survival of his
company to have a good relationship with Vectren. Morton — who has handled a bulk
of Vectren's net metering clients — said since he filed the complaint with the IURC,
the process required for interconnections has improved.
Bailey said before April 2013, Vectren had a process with Morton the company had
hoped would lead to efficiencies. However, Bailey said, at times, the company found
documents that were either misplaced on Vectren's side or where signatures couldn't
Bailey said the company worked to remedy the situation and reinstituted a process
that clearly follows the state's interconnection rules. In testimony submitted to the
commission, Vectren says it issued interconnection agreements to the customers
Morton Solar named in the complaint, though the company admits to misplacing the
application of one customer.
Those agreements are necessary for Morton Solar to sell solar renewable energy
credits for its customers. Those credits are generated by the energy savings of a
project and the ability to sell the credits can be vital to a project being implemented.
Consumer advocates also raised the issue of renewable energy customers having to
purchase external disconnect switches. Those switches stop the flow of electricity
from the generator back to the grid. Vectren no longer requires those switches, which
cost about $500, for projects that generate less than 10 kilowatts.
However Vectren engineer Jim Cox said at the hearing those switches have
"In the event of the failure of a wind-type system the customer could disconnect the
alternate source of energy and be supplied directly from Vectren," Cox said.