The atmosphere was electric despite the wintry conditions outside, as activists and renewable energy industry representatives assembled inside the Statehouse for the fifth annual Renewable Energy Day (RED). Organized by Solar United Neighbors of Indiana (SUN), with over 20 co-sponsors including Indiana Friends Committee on Legislation, the event was a significant draw for legislators and others with an interest in better renewable energy policies for our state. IFCL Creation Care Advocate Mary Blackburn was joined by Deb and Phil Goodchild at IFCL’s sponsored table for a morning of advocacy and collaboration.
The day led off with a prayer service led by a Mennonite pastor who clearly spoke our language when it comes to earthcare. Then Deb and Phil, along with two SUN volunteers and first-time lobbyists Jim Stankevitz and Kathy Wilda, who have a solar panel set-up in their Zionsville home, met with Senator J.D. Ford (D-Dist. 29) and newly-elected Rep. Becky Cash (R-Dist. 25) in their offices. Sen. Ford needs little convincing about the merits of renewable energy for our economy, environment, and public health. When asked how we could help him, he said members of the supermajority need to hear from residents and groups like ours that this issue is important to them. And when and if bills on energy and climate change advance out of committee, we can resource him on policy details. Hearing we were meeting Rep. Cash, he suggested we invite her to Jim and Wilda’s for a solar show-and-tell. An inspired idea, as it turned out.
Rep. Cash was a cordial and interested conversationalist at our meeting with her. She said our stewardship motivation as Quakers for this cause resonated with her Catholicism. She seemed taken with arguments market innovation is pushing energy generation towards renewables, that property rights and energy choice are maximized, and that consumers are increasingly demanding renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels. “Community solar,” a program enabling subscribers to receive credits on their electric bill for part of the energy produced by a local solar panel array, and the fairness of net metering for all homeowners, seemed of particular interest to her. When Jim and Kathy invited her to come to their home and learn more about it at literally the neighbor-to-neighbor level, she said yes, and requested we schedule it with her LA. Like Sen. Ford, she has myriad bills to keep up with, and welcomed our assistance in resourcing her as the session progresses. We urged both Sen. Ford—and, if the bill crosses over the House, Rep. Cash—to support SB335. It is Senator Ron Alting, Sen. Jon Ford, and Sen. Shelli Yoder’s bill creating a task force for Indiana to study the impacts of climate change and recommend solutions. It originated with a state-wide group of high school students, Confront the Climate Crisis, with whom IFCL has met, who care deeply about our state’s future and their own. Both members appeared genuinely impressed by the intent of this bill.
Back on the second floor, the fair which is a big part of RED was at full boil. A real advantage of such events is the chance to buttonhole lawmakers and their staff. No one is better at this than Mary Blackburn, who seems to know everyone but isn’t afraid to engage them even if she doesn’t. Thus we had positive exchanges with Sen. Ron Alting, Sen. Fady Qaddoura, and Rep. Carey Hamilton among many others. While in line for lunch, we noticed Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch and made a beeline for her. As an announced candidate for governor in 2024 she was in campaign mode and more than happy to talk with us between bites of falafel. She delighted us by saying she believes renewable energy is important to Indiana’s future, good for business and our youth. Riffing off the advice, she told us, of her naturopath, “What’s good for our body is good for us,” she exclaimed, “What’s good for the Earth is good for us!” and seemed very pleased with her catchy phrase. We concurred!
The solidarity and connectedness of events is so encouraging, giving us inspiration to press on against what can be stiff headwinds at the Statehouse on environmental and energy issues. And we can’t forget our efforts do register.
At 11:46 p.m. that evening, Rep. Cash sent a long reply to Phil’s thank you email. Thanking us for the chance to talk, she wrote in part, “Interestingly, I am not sure if you saw, but we voted on several amendments today regarding solar energy. Because of your visit with me, I did vote yes, on an amendment that was proposed. It was part of a much larger piece of legislation that will be voted on Monday. While the amendments did not pass, Rep. Soliday did agree that some issues needed to be looked at and that he would work with the author to try to address some of the issues around individuals with solar panels. I do believe that there is agreement that a task force may, in fact be in order.” A representative whose mind seems open to the right approach.
As Sen. Qaddoura told us, lamenting the frustration of being the minority party at the Statehouse, “What groups like yours do out there lifts us up here.” That’s enough to make us venture out again into the January cold.