Solar energy supporters, utilities spar over legislation

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Solar energy supporters are pushing back against a bill backed by Indiana's utilities that would change how much credit owners of small-scale solar installations get for the power they generate.

The bill authored by state Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, would amend Indiana code for so-called "net metering," under which electric customers are charged only for the net amount of power they use and get credit on future bills for excess power they generate and send back into the electric grid.

The measure has been referred to the House utilities, energy and telecommunications committee. Koch, who chairs that panel, said his bill's purpose "is to promote and grow net metering."

Utility companies currently charge and credit net metering customers at the same rate per kilowatt hour.

Koch tells The Herald-Times that hurts customers who don't have solar panels of their own. He said Indiana's current net metering rules will shift a growing share of the utilities' fixed costs for generation, transmission and distribution onto traditional customers if small-scale solar expands as expected.

"Net metering forces other people to pay more for the cost of electrical grid upkeep," said Dave Arland, a spokesman for the Indiana Energy Association, which represents 14 member utilities.

But state Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington and a member of Koch's committee, said the legislation appears to do the opposite of Koch's stated goal.

"It's a very complicated bill, but it seems it would effectively end net metering by lowering the credit so that it's no longer a good economic investment," he said.

Indiana currently has about 600 customers that both buy and sell power via net metering arrangements with their utility companies.

Among those are at least seven Indiana faith groups that have added solar panels in part to shift precious dollars from utility bills to their missions.

Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition, told The Indianapolis Star he disagrees with Koch and the utilities' efforts to frame the bill as consumer-friendly.

"We reject the very starting point of the conversation," he said. "This is a war on solar because of the dramatic decrease in costs and the explosion (of small systems) across the U.S."

Olson and opponents want lawmakers to order an independent study of the effects of the growing solar market on the utilities and their customers because similar studies in other states have contradicted the utilities' claims regarding the net metering's impact.



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