There’s been a disgusting development in Indiana that not only hurts the environment and national security, but could cost middle-class homeowners (and voters!) thousands of dollars per Indiana household.
It’s called net metering, a practice that allows individuals who own rooftop solar to “sell back” extra, unneeded electricity back to the utility company as credit against their bill (with many people getting checks back for the energy they produce). Now, thanks to oil industry and utility lobbying, Indiana homeowners installing new rooftop solar systems in any of the state’s investor-owned utilities’ areas will no longer be able to sell their power back to the grid for what they’d pay for it, which could seriously hurt the appeal of installing rooftop solar in many cases, which will lead to fewer people choosing to put panels on their roof … and that’s the point.
“Instead of empowering Hoosier homeowners and Indiana-grown small businesses with the ability to manage their energy destiny by harnessing homemade energy, Indiana is taking a huge step backward by allowing net metering to expire,” said Zach Schalk, Indiana program director for Solar United Neighbors. “Rooftop solar is a powerful tool to enhance the reliability and resiliency of the electric grid. It makes no sense to eliminate net metering as grid operators are warning of electric capacity shortfalls and the threat of rolling blackouts.”
The end of net metering is a result of Indiana’s Senate Enrolled Act 309 (or, SEA 309). This bill, which was requested by investor-owned utilities, and passed in 2017, ultimately being signed by Governor Eric Holcomb. The act went into effect July 1, 2022 for any customers in the service areas for any of the state’s five investor-owned utilities. These include Duke Energy Indiana, Indiana Michigan Power, NIPSCO, CenterPoint (formerly Vectren), and AES Indiana (formerly called Indianapolis Power & Light).
What Is Net Metering, & How Does This Affect Customers With Solar?
As we mentioned above, solar net metering allows customers who make their own electricity to sell it back to the grid at the time it’s produced. If you don’t have battery storage (which is expensive), your solar panels’ power that you don’t need during the day goes back into the neighborhood wires, and your neighbors (also utility customers) end up using that electricity. Because your neighborhood needs less power, your local utility doesn’t have to make the power, so it seems like a pretty fair trade.
With net metering, you get a credit on your bill for any month where you give the grid more electricity than you use (something more common in summer months). When you fall short, those credits can cover most or possibly all of your utility bill, meaning you pay little or nothing for most of the year. Or, if you’re in a place with great sunlight and a utility willing to do it, you could end up getting a check from the power company.
In Indiana, companies are allowed to make different arrangements, called “Excess Distributed Generation” policies. This still gives you credits for what you put into the grid for your neighbors (who pay the utility company full price, of course), but they’re allowed to pay you little or nothing for the electricity depending on their policies. They’re also allowed to use disadvantageous “instantaneous netting” calculations instead of looking at energy put in and out over the course of the month.
“It’s more appropriate to refer to this new methodology as no-netting,” said Ben Inskeep, program director at Citizens Action Coalition. “No-netting is a back-handed scheme designed by the investor-owned monopolies to obstruct Hoosier consumers who are trying to free themselves from monopoly control and their confiscatory and exorbitant energy prices.”
This Isn’t Technically Legal, But It’s Still In The Courts
If you’re skeptical that the Indiana Senate would want to rip people with rooftop solar off that badly, you’re right. SEA 309 didn’t allow for “no-netting” policies that don’t pay people anything for their power that feeds neighbors, but subsequent handling of the law by utility regulators lead to a policy that’s functionally no-net (while, of course, being called something else).
Environmental groups and utility customers predictably sued the state and their utilities for doing this, and eventually won on appeal, but the case is now headed to the Indiana Supreme Court. When the state Supreme Court took the case, they vacated (canceled out) the appeals court’s decision pending their judgment on the case, allowing the new policies to go into effect for now.
Hearings over this start in September, but until then, customers and solar installers are left in a bad spot. Nobody knows how the case is going to turn out, or whether a longer legal battle will result if the regulators and utilities play more games after losing.
“We understand that state legislators wanted to change how solar customers were credited for excess electricity put back on the grid,” said Laura Ann Arnold, president of Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance (IndianaDG). “But this rewriting of Indiana statute by the IURC was an egregious decision, which will decimate the nascent Indiana rooftop solar industry by discouraging Hoosier ratepayers who want to install solar to reduce their electric bills.”
This Is Terrible For The Grid
If you’ve been paying attention at all to grids and solar over the last couple of years, it’s clear that we’ve got a problem with electric grids in the United States. They’re behind the times and in bad need of upgrades and repairs, and it’s tough to keep enough power production up in many cases. Distributed power, such as that coming from solar power on rooftops, can greatly help the grid be more stable in the event of low power or overloaded transmission lines. If you’re getting power from a neighbor’s rooftop, it puts less stress on the longer lines, for example.
On top of this, we’re facing climate change. The more clean power we can get on the grid, the better we’ll do in the long run against the very same issues (severe weather, heat, droughts) that stress the grid to begin with.
A policy that discourages solar installations, rips people off for perfectly good power they’re putting into the grid, and keeps us burning fossil fuels is just bad all around, but especially bad for Indiana. It’s bad for the environment, it’s bad for customers’ wallets, and it’s bad for the security of the United States against a variety of threats.
All Americans need to be better prepared for emergencies, including the climate emergency, power outages, and everything else that’s going on right now. This situation in Indiana is wrong-headed in all the ways possible.
Featured image by Vijay Govindan, CleanTechnica.
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