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Indiana House, Senate propose energy efficiency bills that put more 'power' in utilities' hands

The future of Indiana’s energy consumption seems to be the big topic at the statehouse this month.

Both the Senate and House are working on separate bills that critics say give the utility companies too much control over energy efficiency goals.

First, a Senate committee approved controversial legislation along party lines (7-3) that is meant to replace the Energizing Indiana program, which ended last year.

Energizing Indiana imposed a fee on homes and businesses’ electric bills in an effort to conserve energy through in-home audits and free energy-efficient lightbulbs to ratepayers.

Now the chair for the Senate Utilities Committee, Republican Sen. Jim Merritt, has proposed a solution, which is supported by the state’s utility companies. Senate bill 412 would allow the utility companies to set their own energy savings goals.

Environmental advocates like Sierra Club worry this puts too much responsibility in the hands of the utilities.

The second bill moving through the capital is House Bill 1320, which would reduce the bill credits that users of solar panels receive for selling excess power back to the grid.

The Indiana Energy Association, the utility lobby made up of 14 investor-owned electric and gas companies, said in a statement that it supports the bill because it “levels the playing field” for customers.  

IEA President Mark Maassel says the current structure for bill credits gives solar panel users an unfair advantage that leaves non-solar customers paying the difference.

“Because what we’re doing is trying to avoid the subsidy that occurs when we take a payment to one customer then have to the other customer and say ‘gee you have to pay for what your neighbor is doing,’" Maassel said.

But Brad Morton, owner of Morton Solar in Evansville, says the bill would be “devastating” for the state’s growing solar industry.

“It’s literally going backwards as a state. They’re thumbing their nose at the future of technology of solar and the jobs it can provide and the potential to lure solar manufacturers in the area," Morton said. "We’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”

One thing both sides agree on, which is consistent with national trends, is that use of solar panels and alternate energy resources will continue to rise.

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