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Net metering boosts renewable energy options

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AAA Roofing installed solar panels on the roof of this house in Indianapolis to power the offices inside. The company also uses the panels as an example to show customers how to use renewable energy. - SAMM QUINN
  • Samm Quinn
  • AAA Roofing installed solar panels on the roof of this house in Indianapolis to power the offices inside. The company also uses the panels as an example to show customers how to use renewable energy.

By Samm Quinn

Hoosier homeowners and businesses that invest in their own renewable energy sources can now more easily save money and sell their leftover electricity to the power company.

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission has expanded its net metering program, which will allow utility customers who use solar panels or wind turbines to get a return on their investments. When customers generate more electricity than they need, they use their power lines to deliver it to the utility and get a credit on their bills.

"We believe it will stimulate growth in the industry and make net metering a more attractive option for those who wish to use renewable energy in their backyards," said Danielle McGrath, spokeswoman for the utility commission.

McGrath said it will be up to customers to decide if they want to make use of the service, but "really anyone and everyone can benefit."

The utility commission's new rules expand the type and size of organizations that can advantage of net metering. Previously, it was available only to homeowners and schools and only in smaller amounts.

The changes – which took effect last summer – could expand the renewable energy market in Indiana.

AAA Roofing in Indianapolis installed solar panels on a house it uses as an office building for an associated business. Chris Huntington, who is responsible for the project, said the company installed the panels to show its customers what they look like and what they can do, particularly now that net metering is more widely available.

"Renewable energy is becoming so huge," Huntington said. "We're trying to keep on the leading edge of all this technology."

AAA Roofing posted a link on Facebook to its monitoring system to provide real time data, pictures and historical records of the panels' energy production. So far, the nine panels have produced a total of 236 kilowatts of power, more than enough to power the office.

Although AAA Roofing doesn't use net metering yet, Huntington said they would like to, and they would like to provide their customers with the option.

"Net metering is a great, great program," he said. "Economic times are tight for everybody. As soon as we find a customer that is interested, we would love to get them hooked up with net metering."

AAA Roofing's monitoring system shows that the power produced by the panels fluctuates daily. And that's not unusual, McGrath said.

That means customers participating in net metering will produce more energy than they need in some months – resulting in a credit – and other months they'll need to draw from the utility company, meaning they may use those credits or pay a bill.

Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, said the IURC's changes are a substantial improvement to the preexisting policy.

"It's a dramatic improvement," he said. "It doesn't catapult us into the top of states, but it opens up net metering to every king of Hoosier."

"We think it will make installing new utilities more affordable," he said.

Kharbanda also said the changes will help Indiana begin to improve its environmental footprint.

"By reducing our reliance on coal plants, we can begin to improve our environmental quality," he said.

These IURC's changes came as a result of meetings in Indianapolis, Ellettsville and South Bend last fall and legislation pushed by Sen. James Merritt, R-Indianapolis, during the last session.

The above is one of an ongoing series of reports from the Indiana Statehouse by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.

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