Indiana Solar’s Koch Problem

Why can’t Indiana adopt smarter home solar policies like its neighbors Illinois or Ohio? The short answer is that there are too many obstacles standing in the way of the inevitable.

“If you put solar energy and coal power on a level playing field, solar emerges as a clear winner,” explained Purdue University economics professor Wally Tyner, whose new Energy Policy study found homeowners had only a 50 percent chance of saving money by supplanting their standard grid electricity with solar, whereas farms boasted 92 percent. “Many more homes in this state would have it.”

Since 95 percent of Indiana’s power comes from cheap coal, and even coal companies can deduct solar investments from their revenues using tax depreciation, homeowners who can do no such thing are sitting at an obvious disadvantage, according to Tyner’s study (PDF). Throw in legislative disincentives like House Bill 1320 — whose legalese “may authorize an electricity supplier to establish certain tariffs, rates and charges, and credits with respect to the acquisition of electricity from a customer that uses distributed generation” — and they’re obviously fighting from behind in a war with one shiny winner.

House Bill 1320 is authored by Republican congressman Eric Allan Koch, an infamous last name for anyone paying attention to the petrochemical multinational Koch Industries, whose patriarchs David and Charles have notoriously used their significant money and influence to hinder the inevitable rise of renewable energy. Through front groups like the American Legislative Action Council (ALEC) and The Heartland Institute, Koch Industries has a long history of attacking renewable energy standards; HB 1320’s solar taxes for distributed generation pioneers is just the latest flavor of the month.