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Put energy into smart legislation January 4, 2010

Posted by Laura Arnold in Uncategorized.
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http://www.indystar.com/article/20100104/OPINION08/1040309/1291/OPINION08/Put-energy-into-smart-legislation

January 4, 2010

Our Opinion

The waning days of 2009 are not likely to be remembered for good financial news when it comes to Indiana’s public school districts. A state mandate to make nearly $300 million in spending cuts makes for indelible headlines.

There may be hope for making up some of that loss, however, thanks to statements by key members of the Indiana General Assembly regarding an obscure phenomenon known as net metering.

Schools will not be the only beneficiaries if legislation talked up a few days ago by state Sen. James Merritt and Rep. Ryan Dvorak sees the light of day.

Exploited in neighboring states far more than here, net metering allows utilities customers who generate some of their own power through wind, sun or other means to send the excess back to the grid and get charged only for what they use.

The potential savings are immense, as are the benefits in reduced reliance on high-polluting coal and promotion of an already burgeoning renewable energy industry.

Right now, Indiana allows only homeowners and schools to use net metering, and limits them to a nominal take of 10 kilowatts.

Dvorak, D-South Bend, wants to boost that figure to 1,000 kilowatts. Merritt, R-Indianapolis, is not inclined to go nearly that high; but he does want to extend net metering to businesses and municipalities.

In the 2009 session, both men got their bills passed; but differences over the numbers proved irreconcilable in conference committee. Net metering became one of several sensible energy bills for which lofty hopes died.

Now, compromise is in the air. The utilities, obstinate opponents in the past, have seen that federal taxes on coal are imminent and have endorsed modest net metering. Proponents may well have to settle for a 100-kilowatt limit to get a law onto the books; but as a tenfold increase over the status quo, that is a most encouraging starting point. Building upon it in the future should come easily as its payoff asserts itself.

Like renewable energy itself, net metering offers a win-win to producers and consumers by converting waste into value, with cleaner air and tax relief as part of the bargain.

Again, surrounding states have gotten the message and are running with it. If, as Gov. Mitch Daniels is fond of saying, we are the smart ones when it comes to fighting through hard economic times, this is an easy opportunity for lawmakers to prove it.

This article brought to you by the Indiana Renewable Energy Association.
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