Facing Legislative Deadline, Volunteers Work To Increase Solar In Southern Indiana

Sep 11, 2017

Credit Erica Peterson

It may be nicknamed “The Sunny Side,” but solar installations in Indiana’s Clark and Floyd counties are still few and far between. A group of volunteers is trying to change that, and their push has intensified over the past few months.

At Jeffersonville’s First Presbyterian Church, Tricia Tull points to solar panels on the building’s roof. The church installed 13 kilowatts of solar two years ago, paying about $3 a watt. This year, they added 15 more kilowatts.

“So the new system is up on top of this flat roof up here,” she said. “So it’s completely invisible from the ground.”

And the new array ended up costing less — only $2/watt. Tull estimates the array provides about half of the church’s electricity, and, along with energy conservation measures, reduces the congregation’s utility bills by about $7,000 a year.

Half of First Presbyterian Church’s solar array.
Credit Erica Peterson

That falling cost is one reason property owners might want to consider solar now, along with a generous 30 percent federal tax credit.

But in Indiana, there’s also a legislative impetus.

Earlier this year, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed SEA 309 into law. It changes the state’s net metering laws. Right now, a home or business owner can install solar panels and connect them to the grid — which for most in Clark and Floyd counties is controlled by Duke Energy. If they produce more power than they use during daylight hours, they sell it back at the retail rate.

But after SEA 309 goes into effect, that will change. Instead, solar panel owners will be paid the wholesale rate for electricity they sell back to the grid. Supporters of the legislation say it’s necessary to balance out cost inequities, like the fact that solar panel owners still need basic electric infrastructure to connect to their homes. But the end result is that a solar panel owner could end up selling electricity back to a utility for a few cents for each kilowatt hour, then a few hours later, have to buy it back at a much higher rate.

What Tull and other volunteers are trying to is encourage as many Hoosiers as possible to get in under the wire and install solar panels before the law is in full force. People who install solar before the end of this year are grandfathered into net metering for 30 years. Next year, that drops to 15 years, and it decreases every year after that.

“So we’ve pulled all this together in a very short period of time, trying to encourage as many people as possible to invest in a system before the end of the calendar year,” said volunteer Rick Lovett.

The local chapter — Solarize the Sunny Side — is part of a statewide initiative to increase solar capacity all over Indiana. Lovett and Tull have been holding information sessions over the past few weeks to educate residents about solar energy and the new legislation.

They’re collecting letters of intent from interested parties; in the coming weeks, they’ll use those letters to gather proposals from local installers, with the hope that the volume will help all the residents get a price break on the systems.

And the clock is ticking.

Tull and Lovett said for a Hoosier to be sure they’re able to get a solar system installed before the end of the year, the deadline to apply for interconnection with Duke Energy is Oct. 19. For a list of upcoming information sessions, click here.