The politics of solar power keep getting more and more interesting.
In the state of Indiana, a fight over net metering — basically, whether people with rooftop solar can return their excess power to the grid, and thereby lower their utility bills — has drawn out groups ranging from the state chapter of the NAACP to the conservative TUSK (“Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed”) in favor the practice.
Arrayed on the other side of the issue, meanwhile, are the Indiana Energy Association, a group of utilities, and Republican Rep. Eric Koch, sponsor of a bill that would potentially change how net metering works in the state. The legislation, in its current form, would let utility companies ask the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to include various “tariffs, rates and charges, and credits” for those customers generating their own energy at home.
Net metering advocates charge that this would reduce how much money rooftop solar installers save on their electricity bills. But the bill’s supporters say it will “level the playing field to ensure that all of those who use the electric grid — whether consuming or generating power — are paying for its upkeep,” in the words of the Indiana Energy Association.
Forty-three states and the District of Columbia currently allow net metering — among them, Indiana. The fight is important because the solar industry in the state, and the number of people installing rooftop solar, is expected to grow in coming years — that is, so long as solar remains a good deal financially.
What’s particularly fascinating is how this debate has mobilized the religious community. Solar panels are going up on church rooftops in Indiana, and on Wednesday, the head of the Christian Coalition of America wrote a blog post favoring solar and referring specifically to the Indiana fight (although without getting into the technical details of net metering).
Roberta Combs, president of the group, entitled her post “For God and Country, Indiana and America Need Better Energy Policies,” writing:
Indiana’s utilities are interested in keeping us reliant on traditional fuel sources that hurt our national security and weaken our economy. We must allow homes, businesses, public organizations, and churches to create local, American power by installing solar.
As conservatives, we stand up for our country’s national security and the health of our economy. And, as Christians, we recognize the biblical mandate to care for God’s creation and protect our children’s future.
This is not the first time that Combs has come out for an initiative that might be described as “green.” She previously supported efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry, former senator Joe Lieberman, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to battle global warming. Her daughter, Michele Combs, is the founder of a group called Young Conservatives for Energy Reform, which stands for “weaning our nation from foreign oil, boosting efficiency, and developing homegrown alternatives from natural gas to biofuels to wind and solar.”
“This whole concept of conservative support for solar has certainly gotten a lot of attention, but this is the most remarkable chapter in the story,” says Bryan Miller, who co-chairs the Alliance for Solar Choice, which advocates in favor of net metering across the country. “We’ve seen a lot of grassroots activism for sure, but we haven’t seen a major national group, associated with the far right of American politics, coming out on a renewable energy issue.”
The reason this has happened in Indiana, suggests Miller, is that “we’ve had houses of worship who have gone solar, speaking out about this for weeks.” The Christian Coalition did not immediately return requests for comment.
Energy in the U.S. is changing so fast, it seems, that politics barely knows how to adapt to it. .