Indiana’s legislature is in session, demonstrating that it isn’t only Republicans in Washington who are more interested in protecting favored industries (aka donors)than the public or the environment. (I know, you’re shocked!)
Hoosiers and regular readers of this blog may remember the 2017 bill that made it much less advantageous for homeowners in Indiana to install solar.
Homeowners selling excess power generated by their solar panels back to the utility lost most of the benefit of doing so under Senate Bill 309. Prior to its passage, if you had rooftop solar, “net metering” allowed you to send any excess energy you generated back into the grid, with the utility crediting you for that excess at the same rate that you pay the utility for power when you aren’t generating enough to cover your needs.
Even if it was an even swap, however, you still had to pay the utility an amount sufficient to cover its overhead costs–billing, meter reading, etc. Fair enough.
After passage of SB 309, you were forced to sell all the electricity you generated to the utility at a much lower price than the utility charged you, and then buy back what you need at their substantially higher “retail” price.
Solar energy may be good for the environment, and good for consumers’ pocketbooks, but it had begun to cut into the profit margins of the big electrical utilities. Friends at the legislature to the rescue!
This year, the legislature is showing its solicitude for coal.
Credit where credit is due; the Indianapolis Star, which rarely covers government these days, had the story:
Hoosiers’ electricity bills could rise and several state utilities may face obstacles in their plans to phase out coal-based power generation in the coming years under politically charged legislation that would help a struggling Indiana industry.
House Bill 1414, filed last week by state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, would require Indiana utilities to prove that any plans to shut down a power plant are either required by a federal mandate or otherwise in the public interest.
But not just any plants. Though the word “coal” does not appear once in the language of the bill, advocates and analysts say the legislation specifically targets coal-burning plants.
Utilities in the United States have been responding to market forces and (to a lesser extent) environmental concerns, and have been transitioning from the use of coal as an energy source in favor of natural gas and various renewables. In the past few weeks, at least two utilities in Indiana have announced their intention to shut down coal generating plants.
One state utility–northern Indiana’s NIPSCO– predicts that the shift could save customers billions of dollars in coming decades. NIPSCO is one of the Indiana utilities that has announced its intent to significantly diminish its use of coal and substitute renewable resources.
Typically, utilities have made their own decisions about their energy use, but Soliday’s House Bill 1414 allows the state to override those decisions. (I thought Republicans wanted government to “get out of the way” of business–silly me!)
Keeping coal plants running comes with a huge cost, according to Citizens Action Coalition’s Kermit Olson.
If coal plants are not able to be retired and if they have to be maintained — as another part of the bill suggests — then those costs will be passed down to customers.
“The idea that we are trying to, as a state, to undo a utility like NIPSCO’s current business plan, which is based on economics and least costs of service to customers is just absurd if not downright unethical,” Olson said.
He is referring to NIPSCO’s planning process in the last few years that determined accelerating the closure of all its coal plants and a transition to renewable energy sources, particularly wind, would save its customers nearly $4 billion over a few decades.
The utilities oppose this bill. Environmentalists oppose this bill. Consumers get screwed by this bill. But yesterday, it emerged from committee.
Coal companies– unable to compete in the marketplace– are lobbying hard, hoping their friends in Indiana’s General Assembly will put a very heavy thumb on the policy scale….