A diverse mix of groups met at the Indiana Statehouse to urge state lawmakers to support legislation that would make it easier and more cost effective for Hoosiers to adopt renewable energy systems.
Religious groups, environmental and climate advocacy organizations, local governments and other groups gathered during the Renewable Energy Day 2022 event Jan. 12 to urge the legislators representing their districts to support bills that deal with net metering, removing impediments to installing residential solar systems, new clean energy requirements for electric companies and regulating the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.
As of September 2021, a vast majority of the electricity generated in the state came from plants powered by fossil fuels, with coal-fired power plants producing 62% of the state’s total electricity net generation and natural gas plants producing 27%.
Wind power generated about 7% of the state’s electricity and solar energy generated 2%.
When coal is burned to produce electricity, it releases toxins and pollutants like mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates and various heavy metals, all of which can cause a series of negative health effects in humans.
Burning coal and natural gas also releases greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, trapping heat in the atmosphere and spurring climate changes that are expensive to mitigate.
Thousands of scientists from multiple disciplines have, for years, argued that transitioning away from fossil fuels is necessary to prevent the worst effects of climate change, like increases in catastrophic heat waves and flooding.
Sam Carpenter, a member of the First Mennonite Church, Indianapolis’ Green Team and speaker at the Statehouse event, said his church installed a solar energy array that covers 100% of the church’s power usage.
“First Mennonite has made an intentional decision to prioritize taking care of God's creation as one of our priorities,” he said. “We know coal is having an outsized impact on our Earth, and on our environment and our climate. There are many reasons that coal is on the decline, and clean renewable energy is making great strides and providing the energy we need in the economy that we want.”
Although the present is primarily powered by fossil fuels, the future is increasingly likely to be powered by renewable energy.
Renewables accounted for most of the new U.S. electricity generating capacity in 2021, and coal plant retirements and rising natural gas prices are convincing more utilities, like the Northern Indiana Public Service Co., to switch to utility-scale solar and wind energy generation sooner.
Carpenter said his church was able to adopt solar energy due to previous renewable energy actions enacted in the state that established net metering, a tariff that allows Hoosiers to sell surplus energy produced by home solar systems back to the energy suppliers.
“Net metering makes our investment possible. We are a congregation that was able to able to summon the resources needed to make the important transition to solar. Without net metering, I doubt we could have done that. Net metering allows us to receive full credit for the energy that we produce and feed out to the grid for our neighbors in the surrounding community,” Carpenter said. “We have the solution available to us to support distributed energy and a cleaner environment. We just need the courage, the will and an openness to change, then step forward and take it.”
Indiana legislators voted in 2017 to phase out net metering by July 1, 2022.
Sen. Shelli Yoder is the author of two key renewable energy bills, Senate Bill 314, which seeks to extend the life of net metering in the state by expanding the amount of energy capacity used by utilities before they can apply to leave the net metering program, and Senate Bill 313, which would require some electric utilities to establish at least five community solar facilities a year.
“The fact is when customers go solar, utilities spend less. And when utilities spend less, Hoosiers save money,” Yoder said at the Renewable Energy Day event. “Utility scale solar arrays tend to be sited in communities where property values are lower, bringing much needed attention and tax revenue to communities that frequently have limited economic activity. Community Solar and net metering can help Indiana's economy to become the most diverse energy economy in the United States. And what a trail we could blaze.”
Rep. Mike Speedy, another speaker at the event, is the author of House Bill 1196, which limits how homeowner associations can prohibit solar energy installation.
“I appreciate the technology and I also appreciate the values of going against monopolies, protecting our environment and just having an energy choice in your own household, and that's why I continue to be an advocate for this bill and similar issues like that,” Speedy said.
Among the renewable energy bills being considered by the Indiana General Assembly are:
• Senate Bill 248/House Bill 1304 – Twin bills that would clarify that the net metering successor, the excess distributed generation tariff, would be calculated over a monthly period.
• Senate Bill 314 – Yoder’s bill that would expand the total amount of net-metered capacity of a utility’s peak load before the company can apply to move on from net metering from 1.5% to 5% of peak load, in essence expanding the life of net metering.
• Senate Bill 255 - would establish a 17-member Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force to develop a climate action plan for the state and ensure that marginalized and low-income communities most affected by climate change are given priority for economic benefits and opportunities as a result of the plan.
• Senate Bill 313/House Bill 1250 - would require electric utility companies that are not municipally owned or belong to a rural electric membership corporation to establish at least five community solar facilities every two years that will serve households with low to moderate incomes.
• House Bill 1136 – similar to SB314, this bill would expand the total amount of net-metered capacity of a utility’s peak load before the company can apply to move on from net metering but from 1.5% to 3% of peak load.
• House Bill 1196 – Speedy’s bill would place limits on homeowner associations’ restrictions on solar energy system installation.
• House Bill 1111 – would require the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to prepare a yearly report on commission operations, information on energy industry trends, the modernization status for energy utility facilities in Indiana, changes in the state’s electricity generation mix and other energy matters.
• House Bill 1221 - establishes how utilities can charge for electric vehicle charging and a pilot program for infrastructure for public use for electric vehicles.