Supporters of a proposal that would set Indiana’s first comprehensive renewable energy policy are watching closely as the legislative session enters its final days, although key lawmakers aren’t optimistic that the measure will pass.
Indiana is the only state in the Upper Midwest without a renewable energy standard – a policy that sets a specific amount of electricity that utilities should generate from the sun, wind and other renewable sources by a certain date.
But this month, the Indiana House passed a bill requiring Indiana to get 15 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025. It was the first time such a proposal had cleared either of the state’s legislative chambers since supporters began pushing the idea four years ago.
However, the renewable standard was inserted by the Democrat-led House into a bill passed by the Republican-ruled Senate that originally dealt only with a narrow renewable energy provision.
State. Rep. Win Moses (D-Fort Wayne) expects heated debate as conference committees decide the fate of the renewable energy standard and related energy measures before Wednesday’s deadline for lawmakers to adjourn.
“The versions that passed the House and Senate are very different and the philosophies of the Democrat House and the Republican Senate are quite different in terms of what they think is good for the state,” said Moses, who chairs the House Commerce and Energy Committee.
He estimates the chances of a renewable energy standard passing this session at “less than 50-50.”
Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, said if Indiana fails again to pass a renewable energy standard it will cost the state new jobs and industries at a time when the nation is moving to generate a growing amount of power from pollution-free renewable sources.
In addition, Indiana would be placed at a disadvantage while President Barack Obama is advancing a plan to tax carbon dioxide emissions, he said.
“If [it] fails again, Indiana will also be heading into future greenhouse gas regulations with having done very little to cushion the impact of these regulations on our electricity sector,” Kharbanda said.
Indiana currently gets about 95 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power plants that release large amounts of carbon dioxide – a gas some believe contributes to global warming. With such a high reliance on coal, second only to West Virginia, a tax on electricity production using coal is expected to hit Indiana particularly hard, he said.
Moses and state Sen. James Merritt (R-Indianapolis) said the chances are better that the Legislature will pass an expansion of Indiana’s net-metering policy, under which customers who generate their own power using wind turbines, solar panels or other sources are charged only for the net amount of power they actually use.
Their meters roll backward when they send excess power back onto the electric grid.
Indiana’s current net-metering policy applies only to homeowners and K-12 schools and sets a limit of 10 kilowatts of power per customer. Bills approved by lawmakers would require Indiana’s investor-owned utilities to buy surplus power from businesses and municipalities.
A Senate bill authored by Merritt calls for the power limit to be raised to 100 kilowatts, while a version that passed the House would raise the limit to one megawatt.
Moses said some form of net-metering expansion has about a “50-50” chance of passing.
But Merritt, who chairs the Senate Utilities and Technology Committee, is more optimistic. He expects a net-metering bill to pass with the final sticking point over what power limit the revised policy will specify.
Merritt does not expect a renewable energy standard to pass this session. He also holds out little hope for provisions strongly opposed by environmental groups that would provide incentives for utilities to build Indiana’s first nuclear power plant and construct more “clean coal” power plants – those that release less carbon dioxide.
Merritt said he and other Republicans will nonetheless push in conference committee for the nuclear and coal provisions, which the House removed from another Senate energy bill.
“I think it’s an uphill battle to have clean coal and nuclear recognized, and for these proposals to go forward, and that’s why I’ve been concentrating on net metering. I think it’s something that everyone agrees on,” he said.