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Indiana Supreme Court takes up case over solar customers' bills

Indiana Supreme Court justices take turns asking questions from the bench at the hearing for the case on Sept. 15.
Screenshot of Indiana Supreme Court livestream
Indiana Supreme Court justices take turns asking questions from the bench at the hearing for the case on Sept. 15.

The Indiana Supreme Court will decide what math electric utilities can use to pay solar customers for the excess energy they deliver to the grid. Something that wasn’t spelled out when lawmakers phased down net metering. Depending on how the court rules, it could take solar customers even longer to pay off their panels.

With approval from the state, CenterPoint Energy is subtracting the energy someone with solar panels uses from how much they produce almost in real-time, instead of monthly as it did before. Solar advocates say this means less money for solar customers.

A state appellate court ruled against CenterPoint in January. In this appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court, the utility said their math goes with the intent of the net metering law and that the courts should defer to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission’s expertise.

"Senate Bill 309 was, in our opinion, intended to adopt a compensation regime for customers that provide energy to the system that's more equivalent to what we purchase energy from a wholesale market," said Jason Stephenson with CenterPoint's regulatory legal group for Indiana and Ohio.

Laura Ann Arnold is the president of the Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance. She said the Indiana Administrative Code says to calculate the difference over “the billing period” and lawmakers didn’t change that math in 2017 — she was there.

“I feel as though CenterPoint and the Commission are gaslighting us — that they are trying to say that certain things happened that did not," she said.

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But Stephenson said the IURC follows that administrative code and it didn’t agree that the math should be calculated monthly.

Stephenson said, at an Indiana Supreme Court hearing in September, justices asked a lot of questions about the IURC and how paying solar customers impacts the utility’s other customers.

“We feel hopeful, based on some of the questions, that the court may find in our favor. But of course, we’ll not know that until we actually get the opinion," he said.

There’s no set date for that opinion. Whatever the Indiana Supreme Court decides could affect similar cases with four other Indiana utilities being debated in lower courts.

Contact reporter Rebecca Thiele at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

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Rebecca Thiele covers statewide environment and energy issues.