Indiana Governor Deals Death Blow to State's Solar Industry
By Jeremy Deaton and Laura A. Shepard
In Indiana, solar employs nearly three times as many people as natural gas, according to the Department of Energy. You might think, given the numbers, that legislators would want to protect the state's nascent solar industry.
You would be wrong.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) signed a bill Tuesday that shreds incentives for rooftop solar, delivering a blow to solar installers and their customers.
Currently, if rooftop solar owners generate more electricity than they use, the power utility will buy the excess power at the retail rate—around 11¢ per kilowatt-hour. This practice is known as net metering. Under the new law, the utility would buy the excess power at a little more than the wholesale rate—around 4¢ per kwh.
The bill is an improvement on a previous version that would have required rooftop solar owners to sell all of the power they produce at the wholesale rate and buy it back at the retail rate—effectively treating homeowners both as power plants and consumers. But, the new version restricts solar in other important ways:
• It ends net metering for new customers after 2022.
• It ends net metering for existing customers who replace or expand their solar system after 2017.
• It empowers utilities, with the approval of the regulatory commission, to charge rooftop solar owners an additional fee for "energy delivery costs."
Additionally, the bill may be interpreted to end net metering for homeowners who lease their panels or subscribe to a shared solar array—what's known as community solar.
"It's somewhat ambiguous in the current legislative text, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's the intent of the language," said Amit Ronen, director of the George Washington University Solar Institute. "This bill is obviously an attempt to derail the rapid growth of rooftop and community solar in Indiana."
Students at Purdue University installed solar panels on this Lafayette home. Purdue University
Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, said the public vehemently opposed the bill. "Ask Republicans, 'What kind of feedback are you getting from your constituents?' They'll tell us that they have gotten dozens and dozens of calls opposing the bill, but zero supporting the bill."
Still, Indiana legislators have been trying to stifle the growth of solar for years. A 2015 bill would have radically scaled back net metering, but advocates defeated the legislation. This time, they weren't so lucky.
"A lot of representatives that I know didn't listen to the people and that's a bummer," said Paul Steury, a solar installer at Indiana firm Photon Electric. Steury said the law strips away incentives for rooftop solar, which could put a dent in sales. "I feel solar is the future, and we need to think more about the future."
Clean energy has also become a significant source of jobs in Indiana. While coal is the biggest source of electricity in the state, renewables employ far more people. Coal power generation employs roughly as many people as solar. The wind industry employs more workers than either power source, in large part through manufacturing and construction.
Employment numbers for power generation in Indiana. Department of Energy
But utilities see a threat from rooftop solar, which lets customers buy less power from the grid. Utilities contend that net metering is unfair to ratepayers who don't own solar panels. Rooftop solar owners get to sell their surplus power to the grid without paying for transmission lines or other infrastructure needed to deliver that power to homes and businesses in the community.
But proponents of rooftop solar say it's a net win for the grid. Owners absorb the infrastructure cost of generation, through the panels and installation, and they deliver their surplus power to customers nearby, minimizing the volume of electricity lost in transmission.
Perhaps the biggest benefit for the grid is that solar output peaks in the middle of the day, when demand for electricity is at its highest. When demand spikes, grid operators turn to small, gas-fired power plants that sell the most expensive electricity. Rooftop solar offers a cheaper, cleaner alternative.
Indiana solar jobs by county. SEIA
Among customers, net metering is exceptionally popular. "We definitely pay a lot less," said Indiana rooftop solar owner Lanette Erby. "I would say that our bills are coming in at about 60 to 80 percent less than what they were, and that was over the winter obviously, when we're using a lot more electricity to heat and do things like that."
"We're currently on an inverter with the electric company, but obviously if the net metering bill were to go through, we would be purchasing battery back ups. That's where we're at," said Erby. "The same kind of legislation killed the solar industry in a couple of other states … which is terrible because it's creating so many jobs."
In 2015, Nevada changed its rate structure so that utilities would pay rooftop solar owners at the wholesale rate—as opposed to the retail rate—for their surplus power. That same year, Arizona levied a $50 monthly charge on rooftop solar customers, purportedly to cover transmission costs. In November, Florida voters narrowly defeated a constitutional amendment that would have severely restricted rooftop solar. Advocates say policies like these pose a distinct threat to solar jobs.
In his 2017 state of the state address, Gov. Holcomb committed to creating jobs and supporting small businesses, which he called "the heart and soul" of Indiana's economy. He said of the new measure, "this legislation ensures those who currently have interests in small solar operations will not be affected for decades." But advocates see the law as a clear threat to solar installers, many of which, like Photon Electric, are small businesses.
Erby said the measure marks a departure from a "truly free market." She added, "We are actually considering moving out of state. My parents want some help back in Pennsylvania and the laws are a little more lax there."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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