HB 1320, the Anti-Solar Bill, Dead for the 2015 Session

This page reflects updates after Speaker Bosma’s announcement on Feb. 24th to pull HB 1320 from a vote on the House floor.   

I. A Growing Global Sector.  Past, Positive Steps in Indiana

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The U.S. clean energy sector increased by 250% in the last ten years!   Indiana showed signs of seeking to be a part of this thriving industry in 2011 by enacting a new state policy, which enabled all types of customers (homes, small businesses, schools, factories) to take advantage of net metering, with systems up to 1 Megawatt in size.   Net metering reimburses self-generators of renewable energy that they feed back onto the grid, at the retail rate of electricity.   Customer-generators not only help advance such societal goals as environmental stewardship, but can improve electrical grid stability.

II. A Troubling Future in Indiana: The Threat of HB 1320 in the 2015 Indiana Legislature
Unfortunately, Indiana is vulnerable to taking a major step backwards in tapping into clean energy like solar and wind.  HB 1320, even in its amended form, would generally create significant financial roadblocks to those homes seeking to install solar panels and small wind turbines.

Roadblocks include:
-Compelling the Utility Commission to approve fixed charges on customer self-generator bills, which would disincent customers to generate their own power (e.g. a customer could consume 1000 kilowatt-hours and generate 1000 kilowatt-hours from their own system, and yet still owe a fixed charge.)
-Reducing the credits that renewable energy customer-generators receive for selling excess power back to the grid.   In more technical speak, moving from a “retail rate” of compensation to an “avoided cost” form of compensation.
-Empowering the utilities to impose their own interconnection standards, which may impose cost prohibitive new restrictions on customers seeking to net meter.

III. What’s at Stake
-Indiana claims to be an “all of the above” energy state, and yet HB 1320 would seriously hamper the growth of small-scale solar and wind in Indiana, undermining one of the most promising pathways for Indiana’s energy future.
-The worse Indiana’s policy climate gets for renewable energy, the more likely Indiana will deter clean energy manufacturers, installers and maintenance persons from staying or being drawn to Indiana.
-Residences, places of worship, community centers, etc. who wish to align their energy choices with their values (i.e. environmental stewardship, care for creation, climate action, etc.) will be far less likely to do so given the significant barriers that would be erected if HB 1320 were to pass.

IV. A Deeply Troubling Committee Hearing on HB 1320

After three weeks of delays in hearing HB 1320, the controversial bill was heard on February 18th.    Only only organization — the lobby group representing Indiana’s electrical utilities, the Indiana Energy Association, testified in full favor of the bill.   A diverse number of agricultural, consumer, environmental, libertarian, religious, and social justice groups — along with several solar entrepreneurs — were prepared to testify against the bill.

In a stunning decision, the Chairman of the House Utilities Committee decided to not allow the vast majority of those who came to speak against the bill to testify, on grounds of time — even though no limits were placed on groups that were neutral on the bill.   Those denied the opportunity to testify included people who had traveled all the way to Indianapolis from Gary, Indiana in the north, and Evansville in the south.   A solar company representative who traveled from Washington, DC was also denied the chance to speak.

HEC was one of the few organizations that was fortunate enough to testify against the bill; our testimony was primarily directed at the damaging market signals that the bill would send to prospective solar entrepreneurs and investors.   Some of our critique is reflected in this article.

Despite overwhelmingly opposition to the bill by a diversity of groups — and the glaring reality that only the utility lobby supported the bill in full — HB 1320 advanced through committee on a vote of 9-4.   Our appreciation to Reps. Matt Pierce, Christina Hale, Dan Forestal, and Cherrish Pryor for voting against the bill.

V. The Fate of HB 1320 and Anti-Solar Language in the 2015 Session

A House floor vote on this controversial bill was to take place during the week of February 23rd.  But due to the outpouring of opposition to this bill from the groups and companies referenced above, Speaker Brian Bosma wisely chose to kill HB 1320 by not putting it to a House vote.

While this was an encouraging and very welcome decision by Speaker Bosma, it should not be viewed as “victory” for champions of solar in the 2015 legislative session.    Utility lobbyists are, we are told, trying to find ways of resurrecting the HB 1320 language in other legislative bills.   As a result, continue to stay in touch with your state representative and state senator to tell them to oppose any legislation that would undermine Indiana’s promising rooftop solar industry; as always, please be passionate, informed, and respectful in your communication — that’s the way to build productive, long-term relationships with your state legislators.