Advocates from across Indiana convened Wednesday at the Statehouse for the first-ever Renewable Energy Day.
The event was co-hosted by Solar United Neighbors of Indiana, Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance, Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light, Citizens Action Coalition, Hoosier Environmental Council, Solarize Indiana, Sierra Club, and Earth Charter Indiana.
Activists met with lawmakers and rallied for renewable energy policies that will create good-paying jobs, improve air and water quality, and lower electric bills for all Hoosiers.
That meant vocal support for bills encouraging the use of solar energy, and opposition to additional fees from utility companies.
After Gov. Eric Holcomb signed Senate Enrolled Act 309 in May 2017, Hoosiers looking to invest in solar panels will now receive significantly less money for the extra energy generated by their rooftop panels.
Hoosiers who currently use net metering are grandfathered in for 30 years. Those who install solar units in the next five years will be grandfathered at a full retail price until 2032.
After that, solar investors will be compensated at a lesser, wholesale rate plus 25 percent. Currently, solar generators receive between 11-13 cents per kilowatt-hour for extra energy they produce.
In an effort to remedy this, Senate Bill 430 was authored by Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, and co-sponsored Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, Senate Majority Floor Leader Emeritus; Sens. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville; and Mark Stoops, D-Indianapolis.
The bill would have eliminated provisions under which net metering would be partially ended by 2032 and completely ended by 2047.
However, it did not receive a hearing.
“I reject the general assembly's inability to accept legislation that will better support renewable energy,” said Ford. “This legislative session I have been persistent in creating bills that would move Indiana forward on this issue.”
Ford said he was one of the people fighting against the net metering phase out even before he was elected to office.
“I've never seen an issue that generated so much support on an environmental issue,” he said. “I mean, there were folks at the Statehouse rallying about solar energy. And, typically, when we think about environmental issues, solar energy is not an interesting topic, but that motivated so many people to come down to the Statehouse and rally.”
Ford said he introduced SB 430 to “keep the conversation going.”
“I understand that we are running out of time,” he said. “I also understand that the solar industry in our state literally got their knees cut out from under them. So, I believe Indiana needs to be using our God-given resources to power our state.”
Ford said as the bills are now being sent to the Senate from the House of Representatives, that he and his staff would look for opportunities to insert the language in SB 430 in amendments.
“It is, in my opinion, a path to energy independence,” he said. “It allows Hoosiers to stabilize our electrical grid. I'll be fighting for the homeowners to have equal access to energy freedom and solar opportunities. I'm fighting for those solar owners to get a fair credit on their bills for the power that they generate, and the benefits that they bring to our great state. And I'll be fighting to protect the right of homegrown energy businesses to provide energy choices to Hoosiers, and those businesses that should be able to compete in the free market without interference and arbitrary rate making by the legislature.
“I firmly believe that this is an issue that should bring all of us together,” he said.
FISCAL REASONS FOR SUPPORTING ALTERNATIVE ENERGY
Ford noted that SB 430 was a bipartisan effort, and Alting confirmed this by publicly supporting the efforts to undo SEA 309.
Alting implored advocates to keep up the fight as the legislative session continues.
“Don't give up, because I have witnessed over the years the most successful bills that get through this house and signed on governor's desk is from grassroots organizations like yourselves,” he said. “You can and you will make a difference, particularly when we work together in a bipartisan way.”
Alting said it wasn't a partisan issue for him.
“To me it's a no-brainer, right? It's something that we need to do for many reasons. It's not only for the benefit of the consumer ... but just for the environment in general for generations to come,” he said. “Surrounding states continue to do major legislating supporting alternative energy, we sat idle.”
Janet McCabe, senior law fellow at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, echoed Alting's call for action, and addressed the myriad reasons leaders of all political stripes could stand up for the issue.
“We want Hoosier business to be able to buy electricity that doesn't pollute our air or water and contribute to climate change,” she said. “We want consumers, local governments, business and industry to be able to save money through renewable energy that's getting increasingly cheaper and through energy efficiency that means we're using less energy to begin with. And we want state laws and policies that help us realize this future not stand in its way.”
McCabe mentioned the city of North Vernon's recent conversion to 100 percent solar energy as a practical example.
“They are saving thousands of dollars each month on their energy bills,” she said.
She also mentioned the work of the Indiana Municipal Power Association, which has developed 20 solar parks in the state.
“These resources were built because they made business sense,” she said. “They did not do this out of the goodness of their hearts.
McCabe said it was important to provide people with tangible benefits to taking action on renewable energy.
“We can do this,” she said. “We need to give people something to run towards, not just something to run away from. So, what do we have to run towards here? Cleaner air and water, healthier kids, energy independence, green local jobs, lower energy bills, safe and livable communities. That sounds pretty good to me.
“So, there's still time this year for the bodies that sit in this house to make a difference and for elected leadership, the people we elect in our state, to take bold steps forward,” she said.
'BLANK CHECK BILL'
Advocates for alternative energy have rallied against House Bill 1470, which was authored by Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, with some calling it a “blank check bill” for utility companies to add extra costs for consumers.
Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition, warned of the financial harms for Hoosiers if this bill were to pass.
“It's a bill, make no mistake about it, that was written by the utility industry, and for the utility industry, with the express purpose of protecting utility earnings, utility profits at the expense of customers and at the expense of clean energy,” he said.
Olson called it “the most expensive bill being discussed here at the Statehouse.”
“We're talking about extraordinary sums of money that are hitting Hoosier pocketbooks hard each and every day, and we're talking about Hoosiers who are struggling to get by on a daily basis,” he said. “I thought public policy was supposed to solve problems, lift people up, improve people's lives, so why aren't we talking about energy policy that empowers communities, our schools, our universities, our municipalities, customers to invest in clean energy for their communities?”
HB 1470 recently passed the House by a vote of 74 to 19.
“A vote for HB 1470 is a vote for the monopoly utilities, is a vote for the status quo, is a vote for increased and excessive utility profits at the expense of the public, at the expense of our future, at the expense of our planet,” said Olson.
THE SPIRITUAL CASE FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY
John Mundell is a member of Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light and the Archdiocese Creation Care Team of Indianapolis.
He said he was invited to help launch part of the Global Catholic Climate Unit by the Vatican after Pope Francis published his encyclical.
“There is good news because we can do something about it now,” he said.
Mundell said Archbishop Charles Thompson of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis had recently approved a pilot program that will begin assessing the energy use of parishes and schools.
“We are hopeful this will lead to modifications in energy use, a reduction in our carbon footprint as a faith community and the start of reaching sustainability on a planetary level,” he said.
Mundell said he supported bills like House Bill 1331, authored by Rep. Mike Speedy, R-Indianapolis, “that promote the use of sustainable energy sources and encourage us to shift away from fossil fuels.”
The bill would prohibit homeowners associations from prohibiting the owner of a dwelling unit from installing a solar energy system, impose unreasonable limitations on the owner's ability to install or use a solar energy system; or require the removal of a solar energy system that has been installed.
HB 1331 recently passed the House by a 90 to 6 vote.
“We ask the state legislature to support renewable energy because the people of faith in Indiana demand it,” he said.
Mundell pointed out that it was also Ash Wednesday, an observance which had special meaning for him at the Statehouse, as well.
“I invite all people of faith and goodwill here to join us in reflecting on ourselves and our relationship with God, on how we've succeeded and how we've failed, on what we can do better to draw closer to God and to all creation,” he said. “Life is short. When ashes will be placed on my forehead today after I leave, the priest will say something like, ‘Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.’ It is a stark reminder to me of my own mortality, and my ultimate return and connection with all of creation.”