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Energy task force won't recommend value of solar study, clarify excess energy math

Rebecca Thiele/IPB News

Leaders of a state energy task force said they won’t get involved in a debate over how to calculate the extra energy people with solar panels deliver to the grid.

Instead of subtracting how much energy solar customers use from how much they produce over a month, CenterPoint Energy wants to calculate that almost in real-time. Solar energy advocates say that would likely mean less credits for solar customers and have a chilling effect on the industry in Indiana.

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission approved CenterPoint’s plan, but now it’s being argued in an appellate court.

READ MORE: Advocates say distributed energy needs to be part of the state's energy plan

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Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) asked the task force to make a recommendation reiterating that state lawmakers didn’t change the way excess energy from rooftop solar is calculated. Because the legislature makes the rules for the IURC, that would likely nullify CenterPoint’s case.

But the task force’s co-chair, Rep. Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso), said lawmakers have always been reluctant to interfere with the courts, and so the task force won’t make Pierce’s recommendation to the legislature.

“We could get ourselves in a real bind if we act,” he said.

But Pierce argues that hasn’t stopped the legislature from getting involved in some other cases. He also wants the IURC to commission a study on whether rooftop solar panels benefit other electric customers.

The Indiana Energy Association said because people with solar panels get paid for excess energy they deliver to the grid, they’re paying less for infrastructure costs and essentially getting subsidized by other customers. But Pierce said rooftop solar provides other perks for customers that often get left out.

“You didn’t really consider the benefits to that non-solar ratepayer of perhaps avoiding the construction of a new power plant," he said.

At least 10 states have conducted similar studies on the value of rooftop solar and most found all utility customers benefit from it. But Soliday questioned whether such a study would be objective. The 21st Century Energy Policy Development Task Force isn’t required to make any recommendations until next year.

Contact reporter Rebecca at or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.