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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, April 11, 2017 1:00 am

Solar-energy bill on to governor

Measure cuts incentive to install technology

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers gave final approval Monday to a bill that will lower the reimbursement for Hoosiers who install devices to use solar or wind power.

The Senate voted 37-11 for Senate Bill 309 – which now goes to Gov. Eric Holcomb. He can sign it into law, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

“Overall, this represents a modernization of our code and a further investment in a balanced energy system,” said Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek – author of the legislation.

In the past, the expense of installing such technology was offset by making your own energy and being able to sell any excess back to the power grid – at a premium rate.

But Senate Bill 309 would reduce the payback through net metering over time.

Under the final version, anyone who has installed solar panels or wind turbines by the end of this year would get the higher retail rate for their excess energy for 30 years. This grandfathering is meant to allow people to recoup the investment cost of the equipment.

Those who install solar or wind devices in the next five years would get the full retail rate for up to 15 years, but the longer the person waits, the fewer number of years they will have at that rate. After 2022, anyone who installs the technology would receive a lower wholesale rate plus a premium of 25 percent.

Language was removed allowing utility companies to petition the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for a lower return to the customer.

Hershman said the bill is needed because right now other customers are subsidizing solar users to be on the grid.

Opponents of the legislation packed meetings this year and loudly protested the reversal of the policy.

Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, said every ratepayer – including those using solar – pays for the infrastructure in the energy system, and Stoops didn't buy the case utilities made that the program should be curbed before it grows.

“Let's have a look at what a fair reimbursement rate is rather than making up a figure and putting it in a bill,” he said.

But Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, said opponents of the bill haven't been willing to compromise at all and haven't recognized how much the bill changed in their favor.

He called those opposed “stiff-necked” and said the bill is dramatically different from how it started.

“You can't say no on everything,” Tomes said. “You have to recognize some benefits accomplished.”

All six of northeast Indiana's senators supported the measure.

nkelly@jg.net