EVANSVILLE — A local legislator is backing an Indiana senate bill to require utilities to pay homeowners and others full retail price for solar energy uploaded to the grid.
Republican Sen. Vaneta Becker, Evansville, has signed on as co-sponsor for Senate Bill 430, introduced by J.D. Ford, a first-time Democratic senator representing suburban Indianapolis and Carmel.
If passed, the bill would eliminate the phase out of net metering passed by the General Assembly in 2017. Becker said she didn't agree with that law, Senate Enrolled Act 309, when it was debated at the time.
"I just think we should allow more people to participate (in solar energy)," she said.
Ford said the bill would not repeal Senate Bill 309 but would eliminate its phase out of net metering.
Before 2017, state law allowed Indiana utility customers who installed solar panels to upload the power they did not use to the power grid. Customer bills could then be offset by that same amount for times when they drew power from the grid. The arrangement is called net metering.
Proponents of solar energy argue it was a fair exchange that encouraged more people to install solar panels and recover their costs faster.
However, under the current law utilities are allowed to gradually reduce the rates they compensate customers, ending net metering entirely by 2047. Customers would then have to sell their excess solar power to utilities at wholesale rates but purchase it back at full retail price.
Wendy Bredhold, senior campaign representative covering Indiana and Kentucky for Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, praised Ford and Becker for their willingness to take a second look at the issue:
"For years, the legislature and the governor have allowed the investor-owned utilities to use their political influence to determine Indiana's energy policy, and as a result, we have policy like SEA 309 that is great for utility profits and lousy for everyday Hoosiers. It's past time for Governor Holcomb and the legislature to give us an Indiana energy plan."
Ford said he is motivated partially by the public response to the law when it was passed.
"I've never seen an environmental issue that really rallied folks to come down to the statehouse like that," he said. "It was contentious. I do think it will have a negative impact for our state."
He is hopeful that Sen. James Merritt, who chairs the senate committee on utilities, will give this bill a hearing. Earlier this month, Merritt, a long-time Republican senator from Indianapolis, announced his election bid for mayor of that city.
Ford's bill also would add language doubling the amount of the power generation capacity utilities must set aside for net metering, by increasing it to 3 percent. It would also give more of that 3 percent set aside to non-residential customers.
"Utilities are running out of room for non-residential customers," said Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition.
The adjustment would make more room for schools, businesses and churches seeking to add solar power, he said.
"It's a great bill," Olson said.