Deception wins in Indiana as governor signs anti-solar bill

The solar industry in Indiana put up a valiant fight against Senate Bill (SB) 309, the bill introduced under false pretenses by Sen. Brandt Hershman that will end net-metering prematurely in the state.

In the end, however, the lying side won.

Gov. Eric Holcomb signed SB 309 into law yesterday after it sat on his desk for nearly a month. In his signing statement, Holcomb expressed his support for the solar industry, even as his pen signed a law that could devastate the rooftop solar industry in the state.

“I support solar as an important part of Indiana’s comprehensive energy mix,” Holcomb said. “I understand the concerns some have expressed, but this legislation ensures those who currently have interests in small solar operations will not be affected for decades.”

Decades – or three years, whichever comes first. Under the law, utilities can halt net-metering incentives as soon as they make up 1% of a utility’s peak summer load. For some utilities like Vectren, which serves the southwestern part of the state, net-metering could hit that cap within three years.

Laura Arnold, president of the Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance, said she was disappointed with the governor’s decision and had hoped the governor would send the issue to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) to do a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis to determine the true effect of net-metering on non-solar customers.

“There is a desperate need for real Indiana based data and information concerning the impact of net metering,” Arnold wrote in a letter to the governor before he signed the bill. “As has been done in numerous other states, Indiana needs a cost-benefit study performed by the IURC.  There was considerable discussion among state legislators about the need for such a study to provide state lawmakers with real tangible data to then evaluate and make appropriate energy policy decisions.”

Supporters of the bill suggested that the IURC did not want to do such a study, and that the results of such an IURC study could be worse than the provisions in SB 309.  Arnold said she spoke to the IURC chairman and discovered the argument was a complete fabrication.

“During my recent personal discussion with IURC Chairman Jim Atterholt, I was told that the IURC did not convey to state legislators they were not interested or unwilling to do such a study,” Arnold said. “Rather, the IURC wants specific direction on what they should examine and how they should perform such a study of net metering.”

“The notion that the IURC would make proposed changes itself via an order or administrative rulemaking without due process is not plausible,” she added.

Misrepresentations – and in some cases outright lies – plagued SB 309 from the time it was introduced in January. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Hershman, had come under fire from Senate colleagues for his deceptive testimony before the Committee on Utilities, where he said that without SB 309, everyone making use of solar net-metering would lose the benefit once utilities reached the current 1% cap.

A close examination of the previous law, however, proves no such provision exists under the current law, which makes SB 309’s harsh curtailment of the program unnecessary.