State lawmakers hopeful about renewable energy bill

Legislation that could bring more wind turbines and solar power projects to Indiana has a good chance of passing in the
upcoming legislative session after failing in the last session’s closing hours, two state lawmakers say.

While
the General Assembly seems unlikely to require Indiana utilities to generate a specific amount of electricity from renewable
energy sources, it may expand the state’s so-called net-metering policy.

That rule allows some customers of investor-owned
utilities to send excess electricity produced by wind turbines, solar panels and other renewable sources back into the electric
grid and to be charged only for the net amount of power they actually use.

Because those customers get credit on
future bills for excess power they produce, it can help offset the cost of installing renewable energy systems and make doing
so more attractive.

State Sen. James Merritt, R-Indianapolis, said last week he’s optimistic lawmakers will increase
the amount of power that can be sent back into the grid and extend that option to businesses, industries and municipalities.

Indiana’s current net-metering policy applies only to homeowners and schools and sets a limit of 10 kilowatts per
customer.

Merritt, who chairs the Senate Utilities and Technology Committee, said net metering should be his panel’s
main issue during the legislative session that starts Jan. 5.

The sticking point in negotiations is expected to
be what power limit to set under a revised policy.

That issue scuttled an agreement last session, when Merritt
sponsored a bill that would have boosted the net-metering limit to 100 kilowatts and expanded the policy to include businesses
and municipalities.

State Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, sponsored a House bill that would have raised the limit
to 1,000 kilowatts—about the amount produced by a large wind turbine.

Although those bills passed both chambers,
the legislation died in conference committee.

"It really just came down to the numbers," Dvorak said
last week. "The Senate didn’t want to budge up from 100 kilowatt and we hit an impasse."

He hasn’t decided
what power level he will propose this season, but Dvorak said he’s optimistic about passage because power utilities that once
fought net-metering now seem willing to accept its expansion and at least a 100-kilowatt cutoff.

"We’re a
lot closer and that’s why I’m hopeful this year we’re going to get an actual meaningful bill through that’s comparable to
the rest of the country," Dvorak said.

Indiana lags well behind neighboring states in its net-metering policy,
according to "Freeing the Grid," a report released in November by the renewable energy advocacy group Network for
New Energy Choices.

Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky received grades of "B” in that report, but Indiana
got an "F."

"They’ve been making changes and they’ve improved, but we’ve remained the same,"
said Laura Arnold, president of the Indiana Renewable Energy Association’s board of the directors.

An expansion
of Indiana’s metering rules would make investing in wind turbines, solar panels, hydroelectric systems or biomass energy generators
more attractive, she said.

The Indianapolis-based Hoosier Environmental Council favors boosting the state’s net-metering
limit to 1,000 kilowatts, a level that Jesse Kharbanda, the group’s executive director, said would help bring new jobs and
development to the state.

A 1,000 kilowatt level also would help the state respond to federal climate change legislation
expected to lead to higher energy costs in states like Indiana that get most of their power from coal-fired power plants,
he said.

"Net metering helps lay the foundation for a different energy economy for Indiana," Kharbanda
said. "It helps Indiana better prepare for climate legislation and can provide new income for struggling corporations."

While moving it the policy’s power limit to 100 kilowatts might help individual homeowners and small retail stores
install small-scale wind or solar power systems, he said that’s well below the level needed to help industries and large businesses
with far larger energy demands.

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