The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, June 30, 2020 1:00 am

The power to change

Renewable energy gains momentum statewide

Steve Eberly

The Hoosier State is reaching a critical inflection point for the future of energy production, now that the cost of generating electricity with renewable sources has plummeted.

It's time for policymakers to embrace a resilient future built on reliable technologies that are now more affordable than ever. The benefits of this approach include low-cost energy production, more Indiana jobs, and financial rewards for both communities and landowners.

While several of our Midwest neighbors have been working diligently to build their capability of generating electricity with renewable energy, Indiana has been relatively slow to jump on the bandwagon. More than 40% of the power generated in Iowa comes from renewable sources – mostly wind projects and some solar farms.

Renewables can strengthen employment all over our state and make substantial financial contributions to the counties and municipalities where wind and solar projects are on the drawing boards.

What's changed in the last 10 years? Plenty!

Today, the power generated from wind and solar is often cheaper than any other source of electricity. Back in 2009, less than 1% of Indiana electric generation came from renewable sources. Since then, renewable electric generation in Indiana has grown almost sevenfold. Over the past decade, the cost of generating electricity with wind has dropped 70%, while solar costs have dropped nearly 90%.

That's why we're seeing a huge number of Indiana renewable energy projects on the horizon.

Major manufacturing operations are buying more power from renewable sources. Amazon has its wind farms in western Indiana. Not far from Muncie, in Randolph County, a solar farm is under consideration that would be 10 times larger than the solar energy facility at the Indianapolis International Airport. That new eastern Indiana solar farm would be capable of generating enough electricity to power every home in the county – three times over.

Northern Indiana Public Service Company is in the process of adding 2,300 megawatts of solar, the largest such planned project in the nation. Southern Indiana's Vectren plans to increase renewables use so that 60% of its future energy mix will come from wind, solar and battery storage.

Both liberals and conservatives see the benefits of renewables. According to a recent Indiana University study examining preferences for renewable energy among different ideological groups, the broad consensus favored a future in which the nation primarily relied on renewable energy and used less fossil fuel.

In Lafayette, Purdue researchers crunched the numbers on adding just 500 megawatts of wind energy in 10 states. They determined that the eye-popping result of projects such as that could mean $27 billion in economic impact. Those are real dollars for landowners and local governments. Those are construction jobs to build new facilities, and maintenance jobs to keep solar panels going and wind turbines turning.

We've got a long way to go, but the trend is looking up as we diversify our energy generation mix. I'm very excited about the potential for renewable energy in our state. The time has come to let the sun shine in – and the wind turbines turn.

Steve Eberly is a former Warren County commissioner and executive director of Hoosiers for Renewables.

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