Please click headline above to watch the video for this story.
By STUART HAMMER | email@example.com
Indiana Sen. Jim Tomes (R – District 49) met with a dozen neighbors Friday, who are starting a grassroots effort against Senate Bill 309.
The issue is a live wire in the Tri-State, where people are worried about economics and the environment. Solar users say the Senate bill is unfair, but utilities believe it's needed to keep the grid in shape.
“I have four kilns in here,” says Lenny Dowhie, pointing to his west side house. His roof is covered in black panels. “I use at times 50 or 60 thousand watts of power, which is a lot.”
He’s an artist -- who's not so much starving, but searching for a solution to a problem he never saw coming. The Senate bill could change the way he and countless others in the Hoosier state pay for solar power.
The bill would do away with a system called net metering. It allows solar users to pump unused power back on the grid, and get a credit from the utility each month.
Dowhie says a “sell-all, buy-all” system, which would force solar users to sell their power back to the utility, would force a market decline in solar installers, solar business, and people thinking about going solar.
Mark Maassel with the Indiana Energy Association says net metering is unfair to average customers, who they believe subsidize solar users still connected to the grid.
Tomes says SB 309 “might be moving a little too quick,” and he hopes to see some changes. “The folks that have installed these systems have spent a great deal of money on it, anticipating this will be a future,” he says.
And folks like Dowhie see a future -- off the grid. He has 45 panels on the roof facing west, and another 20 are on the way. He hopes that will pull enough power to disconnect from the grid and avoid the net-metering mess altogether.
Dowhie says his bills in winter used to be in the $1,200 to $1,400 a month range, thanks to his pottery passion. Since installing solar panels in 2015, he says the highest his energy bill reaches is around $400.
Tomes serves on the Senate utility committee which has the task of passing this on to the full Senate. He says the bill is lopsided towards power providers and wants to find a middle ground that keeps a net metering incentive. “To eliminate [it] I think is the wrong way to go.”
Tomes says the bill will likely hear testimony this coming Thursday, and it could be up for a vote in committee the following week. Only if it passes out of the nine-member committee would it see the Senate floor for approval.
Of course, it would need to see the entire process through again in the House of Representatives before going to the Governor to become law.