Defend Indiana’s Solar Energy Future: Vote “No” on SB 309

Updated on Sunday, April 23, 2017.

URGENT CALL TO ACTION:  For the sake of Indiana’s homes, small businesses, schools, and places of worship who seek energy freedom, ask Governor Eric Holcomb to veto SB 309.  His number is: (317) 232-4567 (call from 9 am to 5 pm, and ask for Ms. Katie Reed, who handles constituent feedback); you can also email the Governor at GovHolcomb@gov.in.gov.  If the assistant asks you what would be your constructive alternative to SB 309, you can say that you’d like the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to do a data-driven study — which at least ten conservative-leaning states have done — that allows our state to carefully develop sound public policy related to solar energy.  (Get the fuller background by reading the sections below, especially IV and V.)

Please check out our SB 309 Assessment or by clicking on the image to the right.

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

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The U.S. solar energy sector has now surpassed the number of jobs in the oil & gas drilling sector!   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 reduce distribution & transmission costs, and can improve electrical grid stability.

II. A Troubling Future in Indiana: The Threat of SB 309 in the 2017 Indiana Legislature
Unfortunately, Indiana is vulnerable to taking a major step backwards in tapping into clean energy like solar and wind.  SB 309‘s amended bill would generally create significant roadblocks to those homes, businesses, places of worship, community centers, and factories seeking to install solar panels and small wind turbines.

a. It forbids new net metering in five years.

By 2022, all investor-owned utilities will be prohibited from offering net metering to any customers who seek to install their system after 2022.   This does not apply to customers who are net metered before then; in that case, there are two types of treatment: if you have net metering prior to July 1, 2017, you’re grandfathered for 30 years when it comes to net metering (affects less than 1,000 Hoosiers).   If you install between July 1, 2017 and July 1, 2022, you’re grandfathered only until 2032.   If you are a solar customer after July 1, 2022, you are ineligible for net metering.

b. It places a hard limit on who could benefit from net metering before 5 years.

If the total of customer-owned generators of small solar and small wind account for 1.5% of given utility’s total energy use (in their entire service area), then anyone above that 1.5% would not be eligible for net metering.

c. It forces a sharp reduction in the value that solar energy brings to the electricity grid.

43 states have net metering, including Indiana.   Indiana would move away from its sound, long-standing policy towards an approach that sharply reduces the value of solar from retail electricity to wholesale electricity rates, which is quite likely more than two thirds less.   This is unjust because customer-owned generators of solar energy bring great benefits to the grid (in terms of reduced/offset generation, transmission, distribution, and environmental compliance costs for utilities)  — benefits that more than exceed the costs that customer-owned generators place on the grid (see our citation in the next section).

d. Learn about more problems with SB 309 by viewing our latest SB 309 Assessment.

III. What’s at Stake if SB 309 Becomes Law
-Indiana claims to be an “all of the above” energy state, and yet SB 309 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 SB 309 were to pass.

  • SB 309 goes against the idea of creating an Indiana that is an attractive place to invest in, because it destabilizes the solar policy climate — just at the time in our nation’s history where solar job growth outpaces national job growth by 12 times!
  • SB 309 also totally disregards the fact that 8 out of 11 recent studies on solar energy, several of which were commissioned by state governments themselves, that net metering actually undervalues the true value of solar: In other words, the value of solar to the grid exceeds the retail price (net metered level)!

IV. SB 309 is a Renewed Threat to Customer-Owned Solar

Indiana’s powerful utility lobby, with ideological allies in the legislature, attempted to eliminate net metering in 2015 with the push to pass HB 1320.   Due to the outpouring of opposition to this bill from a diverse number of agricultural, consumer, environmental, libertarian, religious, and social justice groups — along with several solar entrepreneurs — Speaker Brian Bosma wisely chose to kill HB 1320 by not putting it to a House vote.

V. What’s Happened So Far: SB 309’s Movement from the Senate to the House and Back to the Senate (January through April 2017)

a. Our Statement on SB 309, on Passage out of the Senate on Monday, February 27th.

The highly controversial anti-solar bill, State Senate 309, passed out of the Indiana State Senate on a vote of 39 to 9, despite overwhelming opposition among those who contacted their senators and despite an array of school leaders, entrepreneurs, pastors, homeowners, and public interest groups opposed to the bill.  “In a state that celebrates freedom, liberty, and customer choice, this bill does a great deal to discourage commitment to those principles: SB 309, in its current form, poses six significant obstacles to businesses, schools, churches, and homes installing rooftop solar — obstacles that remain even after the two amendments to the bill.  The Indiana House of Representatives would be wise to put a stop to this bill out of a sincere commitment to customer choice.”

b. Status in the Indiana House of Representatives

Six+ hours of testimony were heard on SB 309 in House Utilities on Wed., March 22nd, overwhelmingly in opposition.   You can view HEC’s testimony here.  The amendments on 3/22 deal with one of the six big problems that we have with the bill — it will eliminate our concern about the net metering benefit not transferring to a new property owner; see our modified SB 309 Assessment.

On Wednesday, March 29th, the Indiana House Utilities Committee voted to advance SB 309 on a vote of 8 to 5, with bi-partisan opposition.   Our thanks to Representatives Hatfield, Macer, Pierce, Pryor, and Speedy, for voting against this bill, and putting the interests of homeowners, small businesses, places of worship, and schools above the interests of utility lobbyists.   The bill, in Committee, only dealt with a small element of one of our five outstanding concerns — clarity over the wholesale x 1.25 credit rate for excess power for new solar panel owners after July 1, 2022.

On passage of the bill out of Committee, we released the following statement: “Indiana’s top elected officials, from Governor Holcomb to Speaker Bosma, talk about jobs, jobs, jobs.  But then Indiana lawmakers, facing immense pressure from a fleet of utility lobbyists, vote to keep advancing SB 309, a bill that would do great harm to Indiana’s emerging solar energy jobs sector.  The solar jobs sector, just in its infancy, already employs more Hoosiers than coal mining.  SB 309, even as amended out of the House Utilities Committee, would kill — for new solar panel owners after July 1, 2022 — a public policy called net metering, which provides fair credit to people who contribute their solar energy to the electricity grid.  SB 309 could also add new fees for people who want the freedom to produce their own electricity.  It adds at least three other major roadblocks to promoting rooftop solar energy.   We urge Speaker Bosma to listen to the outpouring of opposition, from Hoosiers across the political spectrum, who are opposed to this bill.  We urge lawmakers to not move this bill forward to the floor: SB 309 is wrong for Indiana jobs, wrong for our commitment to environmental stewardship, and wrong for the cause of energy freedom.”   

On Tuesday, April 4th, SB 309 passed the Indiana House on a vote of 56 to 43 early this evening.   It is the narrowest vote that we have seen on utility legislation in the last decade.   Thank you to Representatives Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington), Mike Speedy (R-Indianapolis), Ron Bacon (R-Boonville), Carey Hamilton (D-Indianapolis), and Dan Forestal (D-Indianapolis) for their floor remarks against the bill.   Thank you to YOU for your countless calls and emails to your legislators in opposition to SB 309!

c. Status After House Passage of SB 309
On Wednesday, April 5th, the Senate author of SB 309 (Brandt Hershman) concurred with the House version of SB 309, which means that there will not be a conference committee.   The bill advances to the Senate where it will be voted on a second time.
On Monday, April 10th, SB 309 was voted on a second time by the Senate in what is called a “concurrence vote” on a vote of 37-11.
VI. What You Can Do Now (Updated on April 6th):
SB 309 is on the way to Governor Holcomb.   At that point, Holcomb may sign, veto, or not sign (in which case it becomes law after a certain number of days).
SB 309, based on feedback from legislative aides on both sides of the aisle, is overwhelmingly opposed by the public.   Faith communities, public interest groups, and solar entrepreneurs have all joined the opposition.   On Friday, April 21st, sixteen prominent Indiana technology & finance CEOs released an open letter urging Governor Holcomb to veto SB 309; here’s one of the first articles that covers news of CEO opposition.
URGENT CALL TO ACTION:  For the sake of Indiana’s homes, small businesses, schools, and places of worship who seek energy freedom, ask Governor Eric Holcomb to veto SB 309.    During the weekdays, ask for Ms. Katie Reed, between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm at (317) 232-4567. During evenings and weekends, please email is GovHolcomb@gov.in.gov.  If the assistant asks you what would be your constructive alternative to SB 309, you can say that you’d like the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to do a data-driven study — which at least ten conservative-leaning states have done — that allows our state to carefully develop sound public policy related to solar energy.
Please also encourage any clubs, church groups, parent circles, etc. to get together to send the Governor postcards urging him to veto SB 309!
Send the postcard to:
Governor Eric Holcomb
Statehouse
200 W. Washington St., Room 206
Indianapolis, IN 46204-2797

More broadly, please get involved in a deeper way by becoming an “Environmental Advocate”!