Net metering bills move through the Legislature 

Indiana House and Senate panels unanimously passed two bills Thursday that would, if adopted into law, allow a wider range of consumers to generate their own electricity from renewable energy sources. The "net metering" bills would allow any customer, homeowners, businesses, non-profits to produce their own energy to meet individual needs and get credit for any excess power contributed to the grid.

Indiana's current net metering provisions are among the most restrictive in the country, and prohibit customers from producing more than 10 kilowatts of energy. That low threshold makes it impractical for large-scale consumers like factories and farms to contribute surplus energy to the grid.

While both bills would open up net metering to all customers, they aren't made equal. The House bill, as amended, would prohibit suppliers producing over 200 kilowatts of power from rolling over surplus energy credits from one month to another. So while those large-scale consumers (factories, farms, local government) would now be able to connect to the grid under the provisions of either bill, they wouldn't see as drastic economic benefits, and effectively wouldn't get credit for all the power they produce.

Both bills require net metering customers to generate power by means deemed renewable by the Assembly, which include biomass, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric and hydrogen.

"Net metering, in the whole scheme of things, is not an earth-shattering policy, in that it's not going to tear down the ridiculously lopsided nature of our electricity sector," notes Hoosier Environmental Council executive director Jesse Kharbanda. "But it is going to provide an opening for a new set of players to enter the market for producing power. And that will eventually lead to a change in the paradigm of how we produce energy."

Kharbanda believes Thursday was the first time that a Utilities Committee voted unanimously in favor of a renewable energy bill.

The House Utilities committee voted 12-0 for the Senate bill, SB 313, while the Senate Utilities committee voted 10-0 for the House bill, HB 1094. Both bills have bi-partisan backing and were supported by a wide range of speakers who appeared at each hearing, including environmental groups (HEC, the Sierra Club) and business interests (wind farms, construction firms).

Each bill will now be considered by the full House and full Senate, with the House voting on SB 313 and the Senate on HB 1094. Assuming that the bills clear each house but that the author of each bill finds that the House or Senate has made unacceptable changes, they'll then head to conference committee, where the author of each respective bill (Senator James Merritt, SB 313 and Representative Ryan Dvorak, HB 1094) will attempt to reconcile differences between the two.

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