The battle over rooftop solar in the United States continued on multiple fronts last week, with Indiana passing a bill to essentially eliminate net metering while Missouri advocates hoped they had the votes to fight off dramatically higher utility fees for rooftop solar.
In Indiana, “the retail net metering rate will be significantly reduced over a five-year period, although anyone who installed a PV system after June but before 2022 will be grandfathered until 2032,” PV-Tech reports. “Anyone after the 2022 cut-off point would only receive a lower rate of compensation for their power.” The bill’s sponsor, State Senator Brandt Hershman, “argued that utility profits could suffer if solar energy continues to grow.”
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Indiana only places 22nd in the 2016 rankings published by the U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association, but PV-Tech says 100 companies in the state still created 2,700 jobs. While the bill, SB 309, makes its way through the legislative process, Sierra Club is taking to the airwaves to oppose it.
“Indiana’s monopoly utilities are trying to kill solar power just as it’s becoming an affordable choice for many Hoosier families, churches, and businesses,” said Jodi Perras, manager of Sierra’s Beyond Coal campaign. “This radio ad encourages Hoosiers to tell lawmakers to vote no on Senate Bill 309 and stand up for energy freedom and choice.”
In Missouri, meanwhile, solar advocates are hoping to defeat a bill that would allow utilities to increase fixed charges for rooftop solar customers by up to 75%. The measure passed the state House of Representatives last week by a 102-51 margin, Midwest Energy News reports.
While the House vote was “remarkable and very alarming”, said Renew Missouri attorney Andrew Linhares, the state Senate “will not accept it in its current form. We have confidence that the Senate will be more deliberative and take this threat to our economy more seriously.”
Sierra Club representative John Hickey said the lopsided House vote was worrisome, adding that “we will have to really mobilize effectively to defeat it in the Senate. I think it’s doable, but it’s a challenge.”
Linhares said the bill, HB 340, has seen its scope expand rapidly since it was first put forward by the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives. “Recent changes would allow electric co-ops and municipal utilities, if they perform cost-of-service studies, to offer an alternative tariff for solar customers based on those studies,” MWEN notes. But since co-ops are subject to less state oversight than investor-owned utilities, “there would be no public process for reviewing those cost-of-service studies,” Linhares warned. “This would be a fairly unaccountable process for co-ops and [municipal utilities] to avoid having to abide by the normal rules of net metering.”
The Missouri measure “is very similar to the threat we’re seeing all across country,” he added. “Attacks have been beaten back in Kentucky and Michigan, attempts to make solar more expensive and to slow its penetration into the market.”
Brent Stewart, the power co-op attorney who drafted the original bill, maintained that identical rates for solar and other consumers would deliver unequal results. “The problem we have with the current law is that distributed generation customers are not paying their fair share of the fixed costs,” he told MWEN.