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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, May 18, 2017 1:00 am


Solar-energy bill rigged for utilities' benefit

Utility companies will continue to invest in solar energy, and jobs will be created. But the debate on Senate Bill 309 is really a consumer-cost issue. Why can't you have both – utility-sponsored solar and a competitive marketplace providing consumer choice?

As it stands, utilities are moving quickly to control their side and the rate-payer side of the meter. Lawmakers killed energy-efficiency goals on utilities, the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission keeps approving increases in the flat monthly charge on our bills, and SB 309 allows additional charges to solar customers. Utility-sponsored solar programs – although necessary – will be more expensive given their high rates of return and charging for depreciation and maintenance. For individuals who want to net meter, taking out a loan at 4 percent interest is a lot cheaper than being charged 11 percent (standard Indiana utility return on equity). Moreover, a competitive marketplace for community solar would tend to keep costs under control rather than having a monopoly. (The IURC has done little to prevent utilities from doing what they want.)

The state should be supporting third-party financing with competitive bidding, along with utility-sponsored solar programs. Once Indiana's electric utilities are finished with their attack on ratepayer control of their own utility bills, there will be little customer benefit for solar (or energy-efficiency measures, for that matter), eliminating ratepayer incentive to do these things. No matter what actions ratepayers take, electric utilities will simply charge more in some other area, eliminating any savings. This goes for small and large commercial and industrial facilities as well.

Indiana will have solar power. The questions are who will benefit and why do we have to do everything under utilities' thumbs? From a cost perspective as state policy stands now, utilities will benefit by far the most under SB 309. We should allow both utilities and the market to work here. Ratepayers should have a chance to save money by reducing their electric use, not be punished every time we decide to invest to reduce our electric demand – which, incidentally, benefits the electric system as a whole.

The unspoken energy policy in Indiana seems to be: Ratepayers aren't allowed to reduce their utility bills, and utility companies can extract as much wealth as they can, regardless of the consequences.

We need an electric system that serves the economy, not an economy that serves the utility industry.

Grant Smith

Board chair, Citizens Action Coalition

Research digs up plenty of alternative-energy support

When I saw the headline “Renewable energy sources unsustainable” (Letters, May 14), I thought I must have missed something.

I looked outside and the sun was shining and the wind was blowing. I came back to the letter and read further. I thought I was reading about an alternate universe. The line, “The world is turning against present-day renewable energy sources” confused me. Minutes before I had read an article in the Business section about Maryland's approving plans for the nation's first large-scale offshore wind project.

The author of the letter cited a Nov. 22 , 2015 report as having said: “A research effort by Google Corporation to make renewable energy viable has been a complete failure.” I tried to find that article and couldn't. I did find a couple of articles from 2014 that referenced two engineers who headed that research project saying it had been shut down. I didn't see where they made the claim it was a complete failure, just that it had been terminated. In other articles there was speculation that it was shut down because others in the industry were doing a better job then they were.

I recently watched a portion of the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting where Warren Buffett said their appetite for renewable energy projects is huge. He said their wind project in Iowa was the lowest cost producer in the state and any surrounding state. He went on to say they had promised customers no rate increases for years to come.

The author of the letter may believe climate change is a hoax, but to believe that renewable energy is not the way of the future is almost delusional. Wikipedia lists 28 offshore wind farms in production, nine more under construction with 11 more in the planning stage. If you do a little research, you find all sorts of renewable projects all over the world either in production or are under construction.


Fort Wayne