By Eric Bradner, Evansville Courier & Press

- A panel of state lawmakers began a debate Monday on whether Indiana should expand its net metering policy to give homeowners, businesses and local governments greater financial incentives to produce their own renewable energy.

Supporters of legislation written by Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, argued doing so would put the state among the leaders of a charge away from fossil fuel consumption and position it for job growth associated with new technologies.

But lobbyists for utilities told an Indiana House committee that crediting consumers for contributing their own "green" power could lead to overall rate hikes.

The House Commerce, Energy, Technology and Utilities Committee did not vote Monday. But the testimony of environmental advocates, utility company officials and businesses in the renewable energy businesses foreshadowed the challenges ahead of lawmakers.

They must find ground friendly to both ratepayers and the environment, with a nod toward technology of the future without too badly harming those Hoosiers count on today.

"When you get to the levels talked about in the (Dvorak) bill, there's a great deal of subsidation going on," said Stan Pinegar, the vice president of the Indiana Energy Association.

That is, allowing large-scale renewable energy producers to receive credits measured in megawatts rather than around the 100-kilowatt level Pinegar advocated would result in more costly utility bills.

"We would like to see some reasonableness given to the numbers in the bill," he said.

Others argued that such a low limit would stifle the growth of renewable energy technology and would result in Indiana lagging the rest of the nation.

"It's almost impossible to get positive cash flow with a turbine of less than one megawatt," said Tim Thoman, president of Indianapolis-based Performance Services, a company that specializes in energy-efficient building design.

Some have argued that the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission already has the power to expand Indiana's net metering policy, which currently allows some consumers to be credited for contributing up to 10 kilowatts of power - enough to power three average homes.

However, environmental advocates have been frustrated by the commission's refusal to do so.

"The carrot hasn't worked," said Kerwin Olsen, program director for the Citizens Action Coalition, based in Indianapolis.

"Citizens Action Coalition supports a little legislative stick, so to speak."

The committee will vote on House Bill 1094 later this month.

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