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.

“It seems to manipulate the competitive landscape by shifting advantage to the state monopoly, as opposed to creating an environment for fair competition from independents and startups,” Kokomo, Indiana solar installer and designer Chris Rohaly explained in a Public News Service report on HB 1320. “Indiana has not been a state that has traditionally supported renewable energy,” added Evansville’s Morton Solar owner Brad Morton in the same report. “When you compare Indiana to other states, we’re very far behind.”

140220-kochIt certainly doesn’t help Indiana to have a Republican named Koch piloting its punitive renewable energy legislation. Even my quick call to Koch’s office asking if Eric is related to Charles and David Koch led to a Kafkaesque trip. At first, a representative said they were of no relation, then minutes later said she didn’t know, then said she’d get back to me, then asked me why it would matter, at all, if a politician named Koch, who is creating unnecessary tariffs for solar-staved Indiana, is related to petrochemical patriarchs of the same name who are making a nice career of sidelining renewable energy. The fact that Eric Koch’s resume explains he was the chair of Indiana’s Utilities and Energy Committee, sat on its Statutory Committee on Ethics, is an ALEC member, a Heartland Institute board member and more evidently is enough of a disclosure for his office.

But it doesn’t matter whether Koch comes clean, because the facts are what they are. it’s not for nothing that Solar Power Rocks gave Indiana a crappy report card: From a “voluntary” Renewable Portfolio Standard and a lack of rebates and tax credits, the Hoosier State is sucking at solar. After creating 1,000 solar jobs in 2013, Indiana lost 100 in 2014, a clear downward spiral.

But it’s not anything a level political and economic playing field, as well as an also inevitable price on carbon, can’t fix, and quick.

“Depreciation and carbon tax are not current policy,” Tyner’s Purdue University study concluded. “If either is added, the likelihood of solar being economic increases to around 90 percent. If both are added, solar has about a 100 percent chance of being preferable to grid electricity.”

This article appeared at Solar Energy