February 19, 2015 / 1:27 AM / 4 years ago

Indiana House panel advances measure to add solar power fees

(Reuters) - Indiana utilities are pressing state lawmakers to let them charge a monthly fee to customers who sell excess power from solar panels under a bill that has become a focal point in a battle between traditional and renewable energy companies.

An Indiana state House committee on Wednesday voted 9-4 to advance the bill, which would also give utilities some flexibility over what they pay for energy sold back to them. The bill, opposed by clean energy advocates, goes next to the full state House of Representatives.

Utilities say they were losing money in Indiana by paying higher-than-market rates to solar power generators under net metering rules introduced in 2011. At least 40 states have net metering laws, which allow solar power users to sell excess power back to the grid.

The utilities also want solar power generators to contribute to the maintenance of the power grid through fixed charges. The amount was not specified.

“The goal is simply to eliminate this unfair practice of asking one neighbor to pay for another neighbor’s particular use of the system,” Mark Maassel, president of the Indiana Energy Association, told the committee on Wednesday.

The association represents Indiana’s 14 utility companies. Traditional utilities have become concerned about the impact of increased solar installations as the cost of buying rooftop panels has fallen.

Brad Morton, president of Morton Solar in Evansville, joined renewable energy and environmental advocates, a housing developer and some faith-based groups, which represent a strong constituency in the Republican state, in opposing the bill.

“This bill destroys the solar energy industry in Indiana. It takes away any little bit of economic incentive and puts it right into the pockets of the utility company,” Morton said.

Reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Munster, Indiana; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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