By Seth Slabaugh
MUNCIE – The ethanol industry in East Central Indiana is on the verge of a rapid expansion. Could that be followed by a wind energy boom?
Yes, according to the Indiana Coalition for Renewable Energy and Economic Development (INCREED), which is trying to build support for state legislation to jump-start the wind-power industry in Indiana.
“One of the things we want to dispel is that we don’t have any wind capacity in Indiana,” said Grant Smith, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, during a trip to Muncie last week.
“Obviously, the first (construction) site is going to go where the wind capacity is greatest,” Smith said, pointing to Benton County on an Indiana wind map that also showed large wind power potential in Clinton and LaGrange counties. “But there is also potential in these other areas, particularly with the efficiencies of wind turbines being enhanced.”
The map – based on wind speed measurements taken 100 meters above ground – shows potential for wind energy throughout northern Indiana, including East Central Indiana, particularly Randolph County.
“These new wind turbines operate at 300 feet,” Smith said. “They’re huge.”
Renewable energy development will be one of the items on the agenda of the Regulatory Flexibility Committee of the Indiana General Assembly when the committee of 23 legislators meets in Muncie on Sept. 26.
The committee will discuss the renewable electricity standard (RES) for Indiana being championed by INCREED.
RES legislation would require each electricity supplier in Indiana to supply at least 10 percent of its total electricity from renewable energy sources, such as energy crops, organic waste, methane from landfills, solar cells and panels, fuel cells and wind, by 2017.
“A lot of it will be wind,” Smith said. “Wind is the cheapest renewable resource. It is expanding significantly across the globe and being integrated into electricity systems all over the place.”
Indiana’s first wind farm – up to 135 wind turbines on 10,000 acres in Benton County – is under development by Orion Energy, which will sell electricity to Duke Energy Indiana.
Electricity from wind is expected to generate only about 0.6 percent of the total electricity in the United States in 2006, but with continued government encouragement to accelerate its development, wind could provide at least 6 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2020, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
A federal Renewable Fuel Standard has helped to promote the proposed ethanol refinery development in East Central Indiana. That standard increases the volume of renewable fuel required to be blended into gasoline, starting with 4 billion gallons in calendar year 2006 and nearly doubling to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012.
More than 20 states have enacted RES legislation, which in Indiana is being backed by groups including Smith’s organization, the Benton County commissioners, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Hoosier Environmental Council, U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar and others.
I&M opposes it
In the 2006 session of the General Assembly, RES legislation received a hearing before the House Utilities and Energy Committee, chaired by Rep. Jack Lutz, R-Anderson, but no vote was taken by the committee. Lutz co-chairs the reg-flex committee that is coming to Muncie later this month to reconsider the issue.
“It’s a new concept in Indiana, and there was back pressure from the utility industry, which was not supportive of it in any of the states where it has passed I don’t think,” Smith said when asked why the legislation didn’t advance in the last session. “The governor didn’t have a position on it. They had other priorities. Their priority in that session was biofuels.”
Susanne Moorman Rowe, a spokeswoman for Indiana Michigan Power, said I&M opposed the legislation because it would significantly increase customer bills. Coal and nuclear are the lowest-cost energy providers to I&M customers, she said.
In addition to affordability, reliability of wind power in Indiana “is a big concern,” Moorman Rowe said.
I&M favors legislation to create a tax credit for encouragement rather than imposing a renewable electricity standard that would mandate renewable energy before it is affordable and reliable, the spokeswoman said.
Asked whether Gov. Mitch Daniels supports RES legislation, spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said:
“As you know, Gov. Daniels recently issued a strategic energy plan for the state focused on producing more homegrown energy from a variety of sources, including clean coal technology, cellulose and biomass fuels of the future, and wind power.
“The plan commits the state to purchase 10 percent of its electricity for state government buildings in Marion County from renewable energy by 2010 and 25 percent by 2025, but the governor has put no specific parameters on usage throughout the state.”
Coal ‘devastating’ to health
According to Smith, utility customers in states that have enacted RES laws have seen rate increases ranging from 0 percent to 5 percent, while the average has been 1 percent.
He also said I&M ignored the hidden health and environmental costs of electricity generated by coal-fired power plants.
“With wind power, you have no emissions,” Smith said. “Power plant emissions are devastating to public health. In Indiana, they cause an estimated 800 to 900 premature deaths a year as a result of lung disease, plus 20,000 asthma attacks and 1,500 heart attacks. For children, asthma is the No. 1 health-care cost and reason for missing school. Everyone knows someone with asthma or [someone who] has it.”
He added, “Wind energy is not competitive with existing coal plants that have few pollution control devices, but it is competitive with new coal plants.”
Disagreeing further with I&M’s position, Smith said that tax credits and RES both encourage investment in wind energy, but only a renewable electricity standard would guarantee investment. “It’s a minimal standard: 10 percent,” he said.
According to a Pew Center on Global Climate Change report released in June, states are enacting renewable electricity standards not only to diversify their electricity supplies but also to spur economic development and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Contact news reporter Seth Slabaugh at 213-5834.
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