Inovateus Solar has come out strongly against Indiana Senate Bill (SB) 309, which pv magazine was the first to report on in January. It has also reported on subsequent developments here and here. This opinion piece about the bill first appeared on Inovateus’ website.
It’s not surprising that 2016 was the biggest year for solar to date. Last year, the amount of solar installed across the country was nearly double that of the previous year, and one in every 50 new U.S. jobs came from solar. This explosive growth is one reason that recent studies show more than 80% of Americans support renewable energy.
Unfortunately, this positive momentum could be changed here in Indiana by Senate Bill 309, which the Indiana Senate will vote on early this week before the bill moves to the House. SB 309 ends net metering by certain dates, depending on when the PV system was installed. Solar customers will not be credited the way they are in most other states. Instead, the pending legislation would require these customers to send extra power they aren’t using back to the grid for 30% of the retail price. Currently, customers sell this extra power for the full retail price.
Indiana has been following national solar trends, but Senate Bill 309 will certainly stop that from continuing. Solar installations for Hoosier cities, schools, companies, places of worship, and residences total over 175 megawatts, or roughly 612.5 acres of sun-soaking photovoltaic panels — enough to power tens of thousands of homes.
Barring significant changes to energy policy on the state and federal levels, this output is expected to triple in the next five years. Indiana, a state better known for its basketball and corn, boasts more than 1600 high-paying solar jobs that cannot be outsourced. Thanks to solar, Hoosiers are cutting their electric bills, adding jobs, and breathing cleaner air.
Supporters of the bill claim this will make solar owners pay their fair share to support the costs of maintaining the grid. Many studies, including a 2106 Brookings Institute report, have shown that solar does not add any costs to grid maintenance, and may actually save grid operators money in the long term. Plus, anyone in Indiana who receives an electricity bill, no matter the size, will notice they already pay a transmission and distribution fee.
Inovateus Solar proudly stands by the 45 Indiana solar-affiliated companies strongly opposed to SB 309. The bill has begun receiving national attention because of its controversial status, with an Associated Press story this past weekend appearing in several dozen media outlets around the country. We agree with the Hoosier Environmental Council that the bill would move Indiana away from a modernized grid, which provides security against outages (Indiana is among the top 10 states for most outages) while lowering costs for all ratepayers.
The benefits of solar power are numerous. Take St. Anthony de Padua Catholic school in Inovateus’ “hometown” of South Bend, for example. The school’s gym sports a solar array, which saves money, provides educational opportunities, and allows the school and congregation to practice environmental stewardship strongly encouraged by Pope Francis. Other notable local solar examples around town include the Century Center, Montessori Academy and the Transpo Bus headquarters. Taking away net metering extends the financial timetable of when these customers will see a return on their investment.
Preserving the value of net metering is about so much more than the people with solar on their roofs. It is about modernizing Indiana’s power grid through distributed generation. Most states are doing this, including Michigan, Ohio and Illinois, all of which have recently overhauled their energy policy to support the rise in renewable energy. A few states such as Nevada, which have passed bills similar to SB 309, have seen more than a thousand solar jobs flee the state after a subsequent downturn in the solar market.
It is not just the fast-growing, job-creating solar industry that this bill will hurt. Recent studies found that 43% of Fortune 500 companies have pledged to make renewable energy a significant part, if not all, of their energy consumption by a certain date. General Motors plans to be 100% renewable by 2050, while Salesforce, with 800 employees in Indianapolis, has pledged to do the same. Indiana will not attract more of these companies if our energy policy makes it unfeasible to meet their energy goals.
If you own solar, are interested in one day owning solar, or simply want to see fellow Hoosiers breathing cleaner air, we encourage you to contact your state senator and later your state representatives about SB 309. This one-page print-out from the Hoosier Environmental Council is an excellent summary of why net-metering is a critical part of a state’s energy policy. It is critical that we retain net metering in its current form. With so much at stake, Inovateus urges its state legislators to carefully review the long-term ramifications that SB 309 will have on businesses and energy-producers in the state before they vote.
By Tim Powers, strategic research administrator, Inovateus Solar