Indiana hurtles toward a “less solar” future

Yesterday in Indianapolis, the Indiana House of Representatives passed controversial SB 309 on a 56-43 vote. If the Senate concurs with the House's amendments, which it is expected to do, the bill will go to Gov. Eric Holcomb for his signature.

Well, it took them four months, but the anti-rooftop-solar lobby in the Indiana Statehouse is now one signature away from significantly damaging its blossoming solar industry before it can bloom.

The Indiana House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to pass Senate Bill (SB) 309 and returned it to the Senate yesterday with minor amendments. The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Brad Hershman, immediately put forth a motion asking the Senate to concur with the House’s amendments so it could be sent to Gov. Eric J. Holcomb for his signature.

The House vote was 56-43 in favor.

SB 309, a fascinating Trojan horse of a bill, allegedly supports solar while eliminating the state’s popular net-metering program precipitously. Solar advocates like the Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance (IDEA) worry that if Gov. Holcomb signs the law, the rooftop solar industry could be irreparably damaged, especially in the residential segment.

Although the bill is no longer as alarming as it was when it was first introduced in January, when it would have forced solar consumers to sell the electricity to the utility at below-market rates and then buy their electricity back from the utility at higher retail rate (known as a “sell all, buy all” system), the bill still allows utilities to prematurely shut down net-metering as soon as such incentives equal 1% of a utility’s peak summer load, which could happen for some utilities as soon as three years from now.

Hershman, the body’s Majority Leader, removed the “sell all, buy all” provisions when the bill was before the Senate’s Committee on Utilities, but his testimony in favor of the bill drew harsh criticism from his colleagues when they discovered he had lied about the urgency of the bill.

As pv magazine reported at the time:

[Hershman] claimed that without SB 309, everyone making use of solar net-metering would lose the benefit once utilities reached the current 1% cap.

Turns out, Hershman pulled that “fact” out of thin air. No such provision exists under the current law, which make SB 309’s harsh curtailment of the program unnecessary. It’s no surprise that Hershman has been generously supported by the state’s utilities.

On [Feb. 24], Hershman walked back the lie while still calling it “accurate” (it is not accurate).

“This is a manufactured controversy from a liberal special interest group seeking to perpetuate a program that, as it grows, will hurt consumers while financially benefiting the group’s clients,” Hershman told the Associated Press (AP).

While it’s not entirely clear to whom Hershman is referring, the Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance is the group that blew the whistle on Hershman’s perfidy.

The irony is that Indiana’s solar employment grew more than 72% in 2016, according to The Solar Foundation’s recently released National Solar Jobs Census. It is currently home to 2,700 jobs, 1,738 of which are on the installation side. One of the counties Hershman represents is in the Top 10 counties in the state for solar jobs, which makes his support of the bill a bit baffling.

Current Indiana law mandates that utilities procure 10% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2025.