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Indiana's wind farm industry faces uncertain future, after prosperity


INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — With Indiana utilities planning to more than triple their combined current wind energy consumption in the next 20 years, wind power projects may continue to spring up in the state, but not at the pace they had since 2008.

Indiana ranks 12th in installed wind capacity. Wind power currently provides more than 1,000 megawatts of energy to the state’s power grid. According to public utilities’ Integrated Resource Plans (IRP), the forecasted total usage of wind power will increase to 3,525 mW.

With 14 wind farms in the state providing a combined installed capacity of 2,114 mW, Indiana utilities would need to draw from turbines outside the state or new development within to fulfill current projections. However, IRPs are not legally binding or permanent, and they are filed every three years.

“IRPs are not meant to be permanent, set-in-stone plans; this information could change,” cautioned Stephanie Hodgin, deputy director of communications for the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC).

With current technology, not every portion of Indiana will work for wind energy, said Tristan Vance, director of the state Office of Energy Development. He said northern and east-central Indiana have the highest wind speeds needed for turbines.

“The best places have mostly been developed. We have a couple in progress, but we won’t be growing at the speed we did in 2010,” Vance said.

In 2008 when Indiana saw its first turbines, it was the fastest-growing state in wind energy.

“Wind power offers a diversified resource that keeps us more competitive. From an economic development aspect, for rural Indiana it’s hard to create economic opportunities. Wind power is a growth opportunity for rural areas. They can get land lease payments, tax revenue, create jobs. Benton, Newton and White counties have seen enormous growth,” he explained.

The IURC confirmed two new wind farms are in the works: Spartan Wind Farm in Newton County and Jordan Creek Wind Farm in Warren County. Pending before the Commission is Phase VI of Meadow Lake Wind Farm, which spans White, Jasper and Benton counties.

“There is a large interest in wind energy because of the federal production tax credit. It provides a discount to the cost of electricity,” said Sean Brady, Midwest regional representative of Wind on the Wires advocacy group.

The Obama-era Clean Power Plan, a U.S. EPA regulation increasing demand for renewable energy, is to be completely repealed and replaced, as announced last October. Potential changes in it are causing uncertainty in the industry, he said.

Several counties in east-central Indiana have completely stalled in wind farm development due to public opposition. Despite these obstacles, he believes there is plenty of space in rural Indiana for more wind farms.

Winds of opposition

With support from opponents of wind farms, two Indiana House bills were introduced this month. House Bill 1225, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Saunders (R-District 54), would require county officials to recuse themselves from voting if they have a conflict of interest. H.B. 1338, introduced by Rep. David Ober (R-82), would make conflicts of interest of county officials a criminal offense, and require a minimum setback for wind turbines after June 30.

“Opponents are motivated to speak. Those who don’t have a problem with wind farms don’t come to the hearings,” Brady said. “There is tension in Indiana, but we are optimistic. We want to protect the public interest and be good partners to the community.

“Bad news spreads faster than good news. There have been repercussions of bad experiences in a couple counties.”

He said his group supports a reasonable setback distance to protect neighboring buildings in proportion to the height of the wind turbines; however, he said there is no need for a conflict of interest bill tailored specifically to the wind industry. He said current laws against conflict of interest are sufficient legal protection.

“The state has tried to create a regulatory environment and taxes that make it attractive to companies to invest in the state,” Vance said – however, zoning is a local issue, and the state does not get involved in the local politics of wind farms.

“We defer to the local authorities,” he explained.

While it is a local decision, some counties have prospered under wind energy contracts. Purdue University found overwhelming public support for wind energy in its socioeconomic impact study in Benton County, in north-central Indiana.

Benton is home to several large wind farms with 500 turbines and was the first Hoosier county with a wind farm. According to the survey, 89 percent of the public still supports wind farms. Most were motivated by the financial benefits of bringing them to the county. For more information, visit https://ag.purdue.edu/extension/renewable-energy

Specifically, the county’s assessed valuation of properties doubled, and schools and local townships benefited from a new revenue stream, said Chad Martin, Purdue specialist in renewable energy.

“The cost of wind energy continues to decline as the industry matures. With the continued demand for energy, we need to find additional ways to fill our energy needs,” he said.

However, he said energy efficiency is just as vital as renewable energy. “We need to think about energy efficiency – LED lighting, better insulation, updating our existing power plants. Energy efficiency is not as glamorous as renewables, but it’s just as important.”

A checklist for energy efficiency can be found on Purdue extension’s website. For a service fee, Purdue also can do an energy audit on farms to provide specific suggestions for increased efficiency.

A Henry County meeting on energy efficiency is scheduled for Feb. 7. For more information, call Martin at 765-496-3964.

1/31/2018