Solar power's day is coming. By 2035, a U.S. Department of Energy study says, 40% of the electricity we use could be derived from sunlight.
Clean, renewable solar power could help us turn the tide on global warming. “Solar deployment,” the report says, “can bring jobs, savings on electricity bills, and enhanced energy resilience.”
The solar revolution will happen even in Indiana, despite the best efforts of utilities and the legislature to control and slow the process.
If you're a homeowner or business owner who's thought of joining the vanguard of this revolution, though, you need to hurry. If you dawdle, you will lose the opportunity to be reimbursed for excess power your home's solar system produces through a process known as net metering.
When sunlight is available, a solar-panel system often produces more than enough electricity for your home or business. That excess power can be shared with others on the electric utility grid. But at night and at other times when solar power isn't available, those with solar panels must purchase power from their utility company like any other customer.
In many states, including Indiana, solar customers can be reimbursed through net metering, an energy accounting system that allows solar producers to receive market-price credit for the excess electricity they produce and share.
Indiana's system was put in place under Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2011; it is being phased out by the legislature's Republican supermajority, which has not exactly taken a shine to solar power and other forms of alternative energy.
A controversial 2017 law specified that solar customers of investor-owned utilities such as Indiana Michigan Power whose system was operational by the end of that year could be grandfathered into net metering until 2047. The law also directed that those who install a system by July 1, 2022, will get a sort of “grandfather lite” deal, whereby they would also qualify for net metering reimbursements, though only until 2032.
Starting next July 2, those who install a solar-power system will only be eligible for a much lower rate of reimbursement for the excess power they generate – the wholesale price plus 25%.
Those intrigued by solar's possibilities but daunted about taking on one more project over an uncertain winter may find help through Solar United Neighbors. The group's goal is simple and straightforward: “to help people go solar, come together and fight for their energy rights,” said Dan Robinson, SUN's Northern Indiana organizer. The nonprofit organization is working in 12 states and has established 15 co-ops in Indiana since last year. Partnering with Solarize Indiana, SUN began seeking participants for the Fort Wayne Solar and EV Charger Co-op earlier this year, Robinson said.
Enrollment is free. Being a part of a co-op allows members to negotiate as a group with solar installment companies to seek better deals at better rates, Robinson said. SUN set up and advises the co-op, but a panel of co-op members makes the decision on whom to deal with for installations or maintenance. The Fort Wayne group has already decided to hire Jefferson Electric, Robinson said.
There are still slots available for residents or business owners who want to join the co-op.
The benefits of increased solar power go far beyond the money a homeowner might save. “More rooftop solar helps everyone,” Robinson said. “There's less wear and tear on the electrical grid. Less need for expensive peaker plants to cover peak usage.” Most of those highest-use periods occur during the hot, sunny days of summer, when air-conditioning needs may be overloading utilities' systems – but also when solar power is most reliable.
Indiana's previous retrenchment and next summer's deadline are likely to discourage solar investment and development in the state. Nationally, solar power will bring new jobs as well as climate relief and a cleaner environment; states with alternative-energy-friendly policies will benefit the most. Indiana, where lawmakers have traditionally taken their guidance on energy policy from the utility companies, may trail the field.
There are those who still hold out hope that the legislature will reconsider its plan to dismantle the net metering system.
But the only way to be sure you can be reimbursed for power through the net metering system is to install a solar system by the July 1 deadline. If the co-op approach appeals to you, there's another deadline to keep in mind: SUN will only be accepting applications for the Fort Wayne group until Dec. 31. Anyone interested should contact solarunitedneighbors.org/fortwayne.