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A Bill to Kill Solar Power in Indiana?

PHOTO: Indiana House Bill 1320, introduced by Rep. Eric Koch (R-Bedford), would allow utilities to set fixed charges for solar electricity users, which opponents say would shift profits from homeowners to utility companies. Photo credit: Ben Grader/Morguefile.
January 20. 2015
PHOTO: Indiana House Bill 1320, introduced by Rep. Eric Koch (R-Bedford), would allow utilities to set fixed charges for solar electricity users, which opponents say would shift profits from homeowners to utility companies. Photo credit: Ben Grader/Morguefile.

EVANSVILLE, Ind. - Clean-energy supporters and utilities are at odds over a new bill at the statehouse.

Electricity customers in Indiana who use solar power receive credits for selling excess power back to the grid, but HB 1320 would minimize those credits, and allow utilities to set fixed charges for solar users.

Brad Morton, owner of Morton Solar in Evansville, is among those speaking out against the legislation. Morton says it would increase the cost to install solar power, effectively killing it as an energy option in Indiana.

"It takes the incentive out of the homeowner's pocket and puts it right into the pocket of the utility company," he says. "That's what this bill is all about, shifting the profits from the homeowner to the utility company."

According to supporters, HB 1320 would ensure fairness among all customers when it comes to paying for use of the electric grid. The 14 member utilities of Indiana Energy Association back the bill, saying in a news release that "It’s a common sense approach that will correct inequities for customers, and ensure the viability and growth of clean energy options." But Morton argues it would stop the wave of solar implementation in Indiana.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory database, the state's solar output jumped from less than 500 kilowatts in 2010 to more than 3,500 in 2012.

Debbie Dooley, the founder of Conservatives for Energy Freedom, works around the country advocating for policies that support solar power. She says encouraging innovation will spur competition, but with solar pricing at an all-time low, Dooley says utilities and fossil-fuel interests are simply concerned about their own bottom line.

"They see solar as a threat because it will give consumers some degree of energy independence and energy choice," says Dooley. "This is not just going on in Indiana. This is being played out in states across this nation."

Morton says it's not just the users of solar who will pay a price if the new legislation is approved, but the 1,000 jobs the solar industry supports in Indiana. He says lawmakers need to stop building barriers to energy efficiency.

"It shouldn't be considered political at all," says Morton. "It's not something that because you're on one side or the other that you're for or against. Solar benefits everybody, and it's your only option besides the utility company."

Last year, state leaders approved legislation that ended the state's energy-efficiency savings goal and statewide efficiency programs.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN