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Controversial Solar Energy Bill Advances in Indiana General Assembly

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A bill to change the laws regulating homeowners with small-scale wind turbines and solar arrays is moving through the Indiana General Assembly.

The bill passed theHouse Utilities, Energy and Telecommunication Committee last week, and is set to go before the whole House this week.

As we reported last month:

The bill would change Indiana’s net metering laws, and also allow utilities to charge an additional fee to small-scale renewable energy generators. Right now, Hoosiers with rooftop solar arrays or wind turbines can connect to the grid and sell energy back to the utilities. The utilities buy that energy at the retail rate: the same rate at which they sell energy to customers. But if the bill passes, it will allow the utilities to buy that energy back at the lower wholesale rate.

The version of the bill that passed the House committee last week was amended significantly. The new version removes language that lets utilities lease solar panels, and also removed a mandate on decoupling of electricity rates, which Kerwin Olson of Citizens Action Coalition said would have resulted in higher rates for all Hoosiers—even those without rooftop solar panels.

But Olson said the changes didn’t go far enough.

“The bill by and large stayed the same with the impact of really eviscerating net metering here in Indiana,” he said.

“Because of the significant reductions in cost, [solar panels are] becoming a more affordable option for homeowners and small businesses,” Olson added. “The utilities here in Indiana are attempting to squelch that before it even has a chance to get started.”

The bill's proponents have argued that the legislation will level the playing field, and ensure that people with renewable energy systems share in some of the costs associated with maintaining the electric grid.

Olson said his group expects the bill to pass the House, but is hopeful it will die in the Senate.

TheIndianapolis Star recently reportedthat more than 40 opponents of the bill showed up to speak at the committee meeting Wednesday; only one person spoke unequivocally in favor of the legislation, and that person represented the state’s utility companies.