April 25, 2014

Panel discusses renewable energy, public power

About 100 attendevent that also addressed renewable energy ideas

by Mitchell Kirk Staff reporter

---- — Professionals in the energy industry and economic development discussed public power and renewable energy Wednesday night at an event organized by a community organization urging citizens to explore alternatives to Logansport officials’ pursuit of an investor-owned power plant.

About 100 people attended the event at the McHale Performing Arts Center Wednesday night organized by the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy for Logansport.

Leon Bontrager, president of Middlebury-based Home Energy LLC, spoke on the retail and wholesale outlook for wind and solar energy. He stressed renewable energy couldn’t be used on a scale that would take the place of Logansport getting its power from its coal-powered plant and Duke Energy, but that citizens could benefit from implementing the technology on their properties.

Bontrager went on to explain a process called net metering, in which people generating their own power, be it wind or solar, create enough during ideal conditions to the point where excess amounts are being sent back out on the grid. These surpluses are tallied as credits the customer can use when conditions do not support enough power generation for their renewable energy equipment.

Bontrager praised Logansport Municipal Utilities for offering net metering to its customers, as state law only requires investor-owned power providers to do so.

He cautioned against net billing, in which rather than customers being credited for the extra power they send out on the grid, they are paid back for it at gross cost.

Joe Scheidler, owner of Springcreek Landscaping in Logansport, uses technology and equipment provided by Home Energy LLC and participates in net metering. He said he traveled to the event Wednesday night in a car powered by a battery that was charged using electricity by the sun.

“This is done using a system that has no moving parts, requires no maintenance, lasts for decades, produces no carbon, is a buffer from present and future electricity rates and uses a clean, green, renewable energy source,” Scheidler said. “It’s not science fiction, it’s technology available today, and Leon made it happen for us.”

Jeff Haas, vice president of membership and information technology for the American Public Power Association, out of Washington, D.C., addressed public power versus investor-owned utilities.

The biggest difference, Haas said, lies within the fact that public power utilities provide for more local control, whereas profit-seeking shareholders run utilities that are investor-owned.

“Owners of public power utilities are citizens that live in a public power community,” Haas said, adding that with that local control comes locally set rates and often more accountability and more accessible management.

Public power is not without its challenges, however, particularly those that affect power plants operated by any company or organization, Haas continued. He went on to list physical and cyber security threats, changing customer expectations like demands for higher reliability and increasing environmental regulations like the expensive, emission-reducing technology that will soon be required for coal plants by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as hurdles for the industry.

Nolan “Skip” Kuker, executive director of the Hancock Economic Development Council in Hancock County, former Logansport Utility Service Board member and former head of the Logansport-Cass County Economic Development Foundation, spoke about how public power has benefited Greenfield and Hancock County.

Kuker said he has worked with both public power agencies like the Indiana Municipal Power Agency, or IMPA, and Greenfield Power and Light; and investor-owned utilities like Duke Energy.

He outlined advantages of both, like the lower economic development rates investor-owned utilities offer and the increased accessibility to those in charge of public utilities.

“We can see the person who represents us,” Kuker said of the area’s relationship with IMPA.

Reach Mitchell Kirk at or 574-732-5130