Advocates shed light on benefits of community solar programs

By Victoria Arthur

Statehouse Correspondent for Indiana’s Catholic Newspapers

Although legislation supporting community solar programs will not see the light of day in Indiana this year, advocates gathered at the Statehouse recently to promote this clean energy system that is gaining momentum nationwide. 

At the state’s sixth annual Renewable Energy Day on Feb. 13, lawmakers heard from a broad coalition of Hoosiers who want Indiana to join more than 20 states in adopting community solar projects. Community solar refers to a solar energy system in which multiple customers, ranging from households to small businesses, churches, schools and local governments, can subscribe to receive a credit on their utility bill for a share of the power produced by nearby solar panels. 

Community solar provides an alternative for those who want to tap into the benefits of solar energy but are unable to place solar panels on their property themselves due to cost or other constraints. House Bill 1193, authored by Rep. Carey Hamilton (D-Indianapolis), was the primary measure introduced in this legislative session authorizing community solar programs, but it did not receive a hearing. 

Despite the lack of movement at the Statehouse this year, advocates for the environment including the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) say they will continue to illuminate this topic. 

“The Church’s interest in this policy is twofold: caring for creation and respecting subsidiarity, which is the social doctrine principle that decisions should ideally be made by the people closest to and most affected by an issue or concern,” said Alexander Mingus, associate director of the ICC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana. “The capacity to generate energy at a smaller scale, whether it be a neighborhood, township, county or business, can be an opportunity for neighbors to better love one another through collaboration to meet energy needs. 

“Pope Francis reminds us of the ever-greater need to look toward sources of renewable energy as an integral part of caring for our common home.” 

For nearly a decade, the Catholic Church has viewed environmental issues through the lens of “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home,” the groundbreaking 2015 encyclical on the environment by Pope Francis, which echoed concerns previously raised by Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. In this pivotal teaching document, Pope Francis called for dialogue and swift action worldwide to protect the environment, curb irresponsible development and respect God’s creation. 

Just months ago, Pope Francis expressed even greater urgency on these issues with the publication of “Laudate Deum,” an apostolic exhortation calling for immediate action on climate change. 

“With the passage of time, I have realized that our responses have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point,” Pope Francis wrote, urging adoption of renewable forms of energy as one solution to the climate crisis. 

Among those heeding the pope’s call is Sister Jean Marie Ballard, a member of the Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand, Indiana, who traveled to the Statehouse for Renewable Energy Day. 

“The majority of the Church’s social teachings encompass respect for all life,” said Sister Jean Marie, who chairs her religious community’s Laudato Si’ action plan. “The teachings discuss our responsibility in society and seeking together the common good for all, especially the vulnerable and the poor. We know that the vulnerable and the poor are greatly affected by poor air quality and poor water quality, and the use of fossil fuels affects air and water.” 

Sister Jean Marie says she is heartened by the growing interest in renewable energy across the state, including community solar programs. 

“There are families and organizations that are not able to make the total investment of installing solar panels on their homes and businesses, but community solar allows an affordable way to participate in solar energy,” she said. 

Michael Jefferies, regional coordinator for the statewide group Citizens Climate Lobby, also was encouraged by the turnout and the enthusiasm.

“We have a growing number of activists concerned about renewable energy and climate issues,” said Jefferies, a political science and theology graduate of Marian University in Indianapolis. “In fact, it was the largest group to show up for Renewable Energy Day and we didn’t even have a live bill that we were lobbying on.” 

Jefferies says that he and other advocates want Hoosiers to know that renewable energy is both the cleanest power source and the cheapest. He also expressed hope that legislation pertaining to community solar and other forms of sustainable energy will move forward in the coming years. 

As the Indiana General Assembly is well past the midpoint of this short legislative session, there are active bills on numerous other areas of interest to the ICC and its allies. Among the measures they oppose is House Bill 1284, which would allow banks and other financial institutions to change the terms of contracts without consent from their customers. 

“While we understand that banks want and need to protect their financial interests, they should still try to serve their customers – the citizens of Indiana – in the best way possible,” said Angela Espada, ICC executive director. “This bill as written does not do that.”

The measure passed the House by a large margin and now is making its way through the Senate, with consumer advocates sounding alarm bells at every opportunity. 

Erin Macey, director of the Indiana Community Action Poverty Institute, urged lawmakers to “add consumer guardrails” on a bill that she expressed gives “unprecedented” power to banking institutions. 

“Nothing in this bill prevents the written notice (of changes) from being buried somewhere a consumer would be unlikely to notice it,” Macey said. “Nothing in this bill puts a timeline on how long the customer has before the change becomes effective, so you could literally make a change effective one day after notice and customers would have to scramble to close their accounts and change banks on a day’s notice.” 

Macey called on lawmakers to add language requiring banks to exercise their power in good faith and not to the unfair disadvantage of the consumer. At press time, House Bill 1284 was scheduled for its second reading in the Senate.

To follow priority legislation of the ICC, visit

For more information on community solar programs, visit