INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
The benefit currently available to those who install solar panels will be
sharply curtailed in the coming years, under a bill backed by Indiana’s
powerful utility companies that was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb on
Driven by the
plunging costs for sun-generated power, investor-owned utilities across the
U.S. are looking to carve out a share of the market. But critics contend the
new Indiana law is part of a broader nationwide push to muscle out smaller
absolutely understand there are benefits from putting solar on the grid,
they just want to control it,” said Ryan Zaricki, president of the
Evansville-based solar panel installation company, Whole Sun Designs. “It’s
not an immediate death blow to our business, but next year is going to be
provides only about 1 percent of the country’s energy - and even less in
Indiana. But the industry is growing rapidly and employed 260,077 workers
nationwide, according to 2016 statistics from the Solar Foundation.
Signing the bill
presented a dilemma for Holcomb, who has made economic growth fueled by
technology and innovation a central theme of his administration. He waited
until a deadline set by the state constitution to sign the new law.
“I support solar as
an important part of Indiana’s comprehensive energy mix. I understand the
concerns some have expressed, but this legislation ensures that those who
currently have interests in small solar operations will not be affected for
decades,” the Republican governor said in a statement.
investor-owned utility companies, who lobbied aggressively for the measure,
say solar panel owners who feed excess power to the grid are currently
compensated too generously. That rate of compensation, which usually comes
as a credit on a power bill, will be drastically lowered for those who
purchase solar panels in the coming years.
The roughly 1,000
people who currently have an alternative power source, like solar panels or
a wind turbine, would be grandfathered in for 30 years, as would anyone who
makes a purchase before the end of the year. But those who buy solar panels
next year, or later, would receive the benefit for a limited time - or not
That could make it
difficult to recoup a costly solar panel investment, though improving
technology may offset that affect and improving battery technology could
make it easier for owners to store surplus energy.
“We are quite
pleased that the bill was signed into law,” said Mark Maassel, president of
the Indiana Energy Association, which represents utilities. “No, this does
not grant the utilities any kind of control of the solar market. No, it
doesn’t put the solar business out of business.”
across the U.S. are promoting an alternative to installing home solar panels
called “community solar” that involves customers agreeing to buy or lease
panels from the utilities on large panel farms.
Duke Energy Corp.,
the largest electricity company in the nation, this year plans to launch a
“community solar” program in South Carolina and seeks regulatory permission
to do so in North Carolina, Florida, Kentucky and Ohio, as well as Indiana,
according to company officials.
But some question
whether the new law in Indiana is needed.
State law already
limited the number of people who were eligible, requiring utilities to
extend the benefit to new customers only until about 1 percent of the
utility’s energy came from an alternative energy source, such as solar. Thus
far, most utilities are far away from meeting that threshold.
“When it comes to
clean energy, Indiana is not a welcoming state for entrepreneurship and
innovation,” said Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier