Wasted energy: What went wrong with the House Utilities Committee Hearing on HB 1320

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   February 23, 2015  /   Posted in 2015 Indiana General Assembly, Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), Net Metering, solar, Uncategorized  /   No Comments

Wasted energy

Ah, the democratic process at work. A group of citizen-legislators gathers to hear from supporters and opponents of a bill to make adjustments in the way electricity rates are assessed for solar-power users.

Only seven of the 42 opponents who had come to the Statehouse to testify against House Bill 1320 got to speak before the House Committee on Utilities, Energy and Communications.

One of them was Brian Flory, pastor of Church of the Brethren in Fort Wayne, who quoted Proverbs 19:11 as he urged the legislators to slow down and give this complex, worrisome bill more thought:  “A person’s wisdom yields patience.”

But unwise and impatient carried the day; Wednesday’s hearing was a sham. The concerns of an uncommonly broad coalition of opponents went unanswered as the bill sailed through to expected passage by the full House.

Flory told the legislators that his church had been planning to install solar power panels as part of what the congregation sees as its mission to be good stewards of the environment. The money solar would save, Flory said, could be redirected to other church efforts, such as a food bank and preschool.

But HB 1320, which increases fixed charges to solar users and reduces the amount they’re reimbursed for power they share on the electric grid, has put those plans in jeopardy.

Other opponents argued that solar businesses and jobs may be at stake, that solar power offers a clean alternative to environmentally harmful fossil fuels, that the bill would disproportionately penalize poor people, the elderly and minorities, and that the bill wrongly supersedes the role of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

Others asked, what’s the rush? Fewer than 600 Hoosiers use the present net-metering system, which repays solar customers for power they share on the grid at the same rate they pay to receive electricity; the tiny break they may be receiving in electric rates could hardly make a discernible difference in other ratepayers’ bills. Send the bill to a summer study committee, opponents urged. Seek independent research that might offer a perspective different from the electricity industry-sponsored study cited by HB 1320’s supporters. Don’t pass a bill that might cripple solar power development in Indiana before it even gets started.

Two people spoke for the bill, and only one of them, Mark Maasel of the Indiana Energy Association, spoke in support of the parts of the measure that would increase the costs of generating solar power.

The committee’s four Democrats voted no, but all nine of the committee’s Republicans lined up solidly behind the utility companies to send the bill on.

But as word gets out about HB 1320’s sledgehammer approach to adjusting solar rates, the alliance against it is growing stronger and spanning the political spectrum, making allies of tea partyers, the conservative Christian Coalition of America and environmentalists. The Senate may find it harder to steamroll over such a range of opponents.

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