The Journal Gazette
Sunday, August 14, 2016 10:01 pm

Energy on misinformation

Kerwin Olson and Grant Smith

Indiana’s monopoly utilities never quit with their incessant misinformation campaign when they talk about what they’re up to, or energy efficiency, or sustainable energy. Earlier this year it was the Indiana Energy Association attempting to convince the public that the trackers they’ve gained through state statute don’t raise rates. OK. But they do raise bills. Nice try.

Now it’s I&M arguing that haste makes waste with respect to renewable energy, claiming that the utility business plan of incrementalism is the best course of action. What I&M really means by "gradually" is systematically eliminating any means by which customers can save money or economically own their own energy resources, like rooftop solar panels. And also by continuing to gouge customers by wasting billions of dollars extending the life of the Rockport coal-fired power plant, which is only serving to pad the pockets of Wall Street investors to the detriment of I&M customers, our economy and our environment.

According to their own national lobbying organization, utility industry profit is threatened by customer-owned rooftop systems and making homes and businesses more energy efficient. As it happens, both rooftop solar and energy efficiency save ratepayers money – and lots of it. This means that utility companies make less money.

In Indiana, the first priority was to get rid of the statewide energy efficiency program, known as Energizing Indiana. The program was saving ratepayers money and creating local jobs that couldn’t be shipped overseas. Evaluations showed the program was saving $3 for every dollar spent and that it had created nearly 19,000 jobs. After spending months negotiating and participating in creating the program, Indiana’s utility companies, including I&M, convinced our pliable legislature to kill it. Yes, legislative leadership, Gov. Mike Pence and Indiana’s electric utility companies purposefully killed nearly 19,000 jobs.

A few years later, the electric utilities tried to kill rooftop solar by supporting legislation that would have jacked up the flat customer charge on your utility bill and made installing rooftop solar far more complicated and expensive. Ultimately, the bill failed. It might have been the broad support, from the far right to the far left and everyone in between, for rooftop solar.

I&M refers to solar and wind as "intermittent" and "difficult to predict." "Intermittent" is an incorrect term and "difficult to predict" is completely erroneous. They are variable and highly predictable. Claiming that the sun is unpredictable is like telling someone you’re having difficulty determining the next time 6 a.m. rolls around. The wind industry is continually improving predictions and, in fact, bid wind into the wholesale market every day. The fact is that variable wind and solar technology are being successfully integrated into the electric grid in the U.S. and abroad. Stop already, I&M!

I&M’s claims about the German energy transition are less than accurate. What utilities don’t like is that 50 percent of the wind and solar are not owned by utility companies. In other words, customers, co-ops and independent power producers own tens of billions of dollars in solar and wind. Hardly a "waste," as depicted by I&M. Moreover, Germany has consistently had one of the most reliable electric grids in the EU – historically better than France or the Netherlands, countries with far fewer variable resources.

As for costs, two years ago the energy transition comprised just 18 percent of the total bill for Germans. The rest? Coal and nuclear and expensive, imported natural gas. As for the kilowatt-hour cost, German households use, on average, about a third the energy as their U.S. counterparts, meaning our bills are roughly equivalent. What I&M also fails to mention is that subsidies were reduced but rooftop solar protected. Instead of selling to the utility to take advantage of the subsidy, customers save money by using the energy themselves. With the cost of solar dropping precipitously over the past few years, the cost of solar installations is much less than the kilowatt-hour retail rate. In fact, German energy policy has been so successful that the term "energy transition" or "Energiewende" is used to refer to such efforts in multiple countries.

By not embracing this technological revolution in solar, wind, energy efficiency and storage technology, Indiana is forgoing thousands of jobs, better air and water quality and a more stable and vibrant economy. Indiana is falling behind as Indiana’s utility industry becomes an ever greater threat to our economic prosperity and quality of life.




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