Tonight in South Bend, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission held the third of three state-wide public hearings on net metering.  Currently, Indiana lags far behind the rest of the country in how investor-owned utility companies such as Northern Indiana Public Service Company and Indiana Michigan Power handle renewable energy produced by customers.  For example, in some states customers receive a check from their utility companies for any excess energy they may send to the grid from their home or business’ solar or wind generator.  However, in good old coal-burning Indiana, net metering for renewable energy is limited to a capacity of 10 kilowatts with energy-generating customers receiving a credit at a fraction of what utilities charge customers drawing from the grid.  As we learned from the testimonies tonight, current regulations also allow utilities to charge nebulous “connection” fees to customers with wind or solar generators; as a result, these Hoosiers who are trying to do the right thing by the environment are actually PAYING to send their excess renewable energy to the power companies’ grids, where they in turn sell it at huge mark-up.  Local and international businesses are having a hard time selling their renewable energy products in Indiana due to the poor rate and indeed sometimes negative rate of return. 

(This should come as no surprise from a state that relies on coal for 90% of its power.  The coal industry has such a stranglehold on Indiana it somehow got the state to allow the construction of a monstrous, coal-fired power plant at the front door of Clifty Falls State Park.   The majestic view of the Ohio River beheld by Eleanor Roosevelt while standing on the balcony at the park’s inn now looks over the machinations of the coal-burning industry.  The three ungodly high smoke-stacks loom over the entire park and can be seen for miles in any direction. 

Coal obviously rules Indiana).

Urging the commission to support changes to the state’s net metering regulations, local and state representatives, homeowners, green technology business owners, laborers and representatives from the League of Women Voters, the Green Party, the Sierra Club and IUSB’s Center for a Sustainable Future pointed out how progressive net metering is good for the environment and the economy. 

Net metering would make South Bend’s installation of the hydro-electric generator on the dam at Century Center an economically feasible venture with an estimated return on investment in half the time without net metering.

Every speaker at tonight’s hearing supported revising net metering regulations in order to encourage businesses, local governments and home owners to invest in renewable energy.   This cross-section of our community thinks it’s an idea whose time has come.  Let’s hope the IURC agrees.