Oldenburg Renewable Energy Commission members Mike Cambron and Sister Claire Whalen were among about 40 advocates at the first Renewable Energy Day at the Statehouse March 6.
Cambron decided to make the trip to Indianapolis because “it’s something I have a deep interest in and I’m happy to partner with anyone who shares that. Let’s get involved and see where that leads.”
The event was co-hosted by Solar United Neighbors of Indiana, Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance, Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light, Citizens Action Coalition, Hoosier Environmental Council, Solarize Indiana, Sierra Club and Earth Charter Indiana.
Beforehand, the duo attended a training webinar. Cambron explained, “The purpose of the webinar was to help those of us who had not previously engaged our elected officials on some tips and pointers on how best to set up an appointment, how to present the topic you wanted to discuss. It gave us some background on energy-related bills that are working their way through this General Assembly.”
At 9:30 a.m. March 6 the commission members met with state Sen. Jean Leising.
They discussed House Bill 1470, which would reduce oversight of utilities by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, leading to higher bills for ratepayers. This piece of legislation would amend 2013 legislation that created the Transmission, Distribution and Storage Improvement Charge tracker that investor-owned utilities can add to gas and electric bills.
“This is kind of a complex bill to even understand,” he admitted. “When you get an electric bill, some of it” is for infrastructure with another part tied to how much electricity is used. Cambron observed if utilities raised their tracker rates “because they wanted to increase their mix of renewables, the renewable energy folks would be excited for that.”
Leising told the pair the proposed bill “is something the utilities are for. It’s something the big industrial customers in her district, like Honda, oppose.”
The Senate is considering House Bill 1331, which would protect homeowners’ rights to go solar from opposition from homeowners associations.
According to Cambron, the legislator “definitely has constituents … who are concerned about renewable energy generation in their backyards. ‘I look out my window and see and hear a wind turbine’ … or ‘a beautiful field is now covered in solar arrays.'”
“I mentioned to her that I’d recently purchased a partial electric vehicle, a Chevy Volt, which has a 17-kilowatt-hour battery. That’s relatively small for an electric vehicle. However, at my home, my average electric use is 22 kWh a day. An electric vehicle with a very small battery has the potential to double the amount of electricity I use.”
Cambron pointed out to Leising, who sits on the Senate Utilities Committee, “If every Indiana home had one electric car, it would be the equivalent of double the housing stock in the state of Indiana. … It’s absolutely coming. It’s going to take a lot of solar arrays to offset the amount of gasoline we burn today.”
The advocate reported the state senator “is understanding of the need to shift to renewable energy, but what’s less clear, to be quite honest, is what role she’s prepared to take to sort of lead in that direction.”
“She was very interested to learn Claire had formed the Oldenburg Renewable Energy Commission and that we will be doing a greenhouse gas inventory for the community later this year. She was curious. She knows Oldenburg doesn’t have a lot of industry. ‘What’s this really going to tell us?’ … If we’re going to try and minimize the impact of climate change, even a small community like Oldenburg has to understand what they can do to reduce their carbon footprint.”
The commission members tried to meet with state Rep. Cindy Ziemke, but she had committee obligations.
“At the rally, they had a few speakers,” including Sens. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, and Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, co-authors of Senate Bill 430, which did not receive a hearing. It would have rolled back the solar net metering phaseout.
Of Alting, Cambron observed, “Here’s a Republican from Indiana who comes out and says, ‘Renewables are a no-brainer.’ His other comment was Indiana sits idle while surrounding states enact renewable energy legislation. His advice to grassroots folks was ‘Be persistent and don’t give up.’ It was very encouraging to hear that.”
Janet McCabe, Environmental Law & Policy Center senior law fellow, also spoke. “She said that because of Indiana’s current energy mix, we use a lot of coal … Indiana is tied with New York for the 10th highest prevalence of asthma in the country. She also talked about how climate change is going to result in increased rain and flooding in the spring, but very likely less rain and more drought in the summer and fall.” The Indiana University law professor said in the future our state will have over one month of days when it’s over 95 degrees. Cambron reflected, “Indiana will have the type of weather we currently have in Texas. Apparently there have been armadilloes spotted in southern Indiana!”
The speaker mentioned some bright spots in improving the environment. North Vernon leaders have converted to solar energy to power its facilities. Ball State University switched from coal to a geothermal energy plan. The system may be the largest of its kind in use at a public institution.
McCabe’s closing words of advice: When faced with a challenging situation, “we need to give people something to run toward, not just something to run away from. So, what do we have to run toward here? Cleaner air and water, healthier kids, energy independence, green local jobs, lower energy bills, safe and livable communities. That sounds pretty good to me.”
Cambron is clearly worried about how our climate will change if different energy sources aren’t instituted soon. He predicted, “Hurricanes are going to be more intense. Are we going to continue to be able to rebuild? We’re not that far away from experiencing our first Category 6 hurricane.”
“With rising sea levels, with what we know about how it could affect worldwide drought, worldwide flooding, the ability to grow crops where we’ve historically grown crops, the data suggests this is not going to be easy on people living in places that are already difficult to live in.”
His most dire prediction: “If we don’t do something about this, from what reading I’ve done and what the data suggests, we’re going to see a dramatic drop in the human population on the planet and I don’t think it’s going to happen peacefully.”
But then Cambron shared a viral YouTube video of Sweden’s Greta Thunberg on his cellphone. He suggested watching the teen, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, speak at the World Economic Forum “if you want to get inspired.”
She said, “Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity for a very small number of people to continue making an enormous amount of money.”
Thunberg imagined spending her 75th birthday with her grandchildren. “Maybe they will ask me about you,” she told the world leaders. “Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there was still time to act. You say you love your children above all else and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.”
As horrifying photos with disturbing facts played on the screen, Thunberg said,“I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as if you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire – because it is.”