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Windmill power faces legislative storm  

With the state pushing the use of corn for gasoline, environmentalists and a group of farmers are fighting an uphill battle to have Indiana take a closer look at using windmills as power plants.

The Indiana Coalition for Renewable Energy and Economic Development plans to push for legislation to require electric companies to provide at least 10 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2017.

Similar requirements are in place in 20 other states.

“We think it is a win-win proposition of the state. It creates jobs and lessens the pressure to build new coal-fired power plants,” said Dave Menzer, president of Citizens Action Coalition.

After Texas required power companies to use alternative energy, the state passed California for the amount wind projects up and running, he said.

The bill faces stiff opposition from utilities and Gov. Mitch Daniels, who opposed a similar bill this year.

The debate over Indiana’s future in wind power will play out in a joint summer study commission of the Indiana House and Senate scheduled to take testimony on the idea during a Tuesday hearing in Muncie.

The original bill received a hearing in the House but did not come to a vote, despite having a letter of support signed by both Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind., and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

It will face a similar uphill battle in the upcoming session. Daniels supports the use of alternative energy but a top aide said the governor is against requiring power companies to generate a certain percentage of electricity from renewable resources, such as wind.

The administration looks instead to its record attracting investment in bio-diesel and gasoline alternatives made from corn and soy beans.

“We’ve got a good record on renewable energy. We want a chance to work on this issue before we endorse a mandatory set aside,” said John Clark, director of the state Office of Energy and Defense Development.

Voluntary programs or government incentives probably will not encourage businesses to invest in Indiana wind farms, Menzer said.

“We’ve been told you need that 10-year commitment from government before people will invest in new equipment,” he said.

The bill has the backing of several county farm bureaus.

Like renewable fuels, wind provides a nice potential market for farmers. The yearly lease rate for a single windmill is expected to be between $4,000 to $9,000 a year, said Rep. Don Lehe, R-Brookston.

The key will be in the cost to ratepayers. His district is the potential home for the only windfarm planned for the state, Lehe said.

Like all power plants, even wind generation comes with a price tag. ICREED, the advocates for renewable energy, will present a rate study to the summer study committee that will show buying power from windmills and other sources of alternative energy have the potential to raise electric bills 1 percent to 3 percent, Menzer said.

It’s far lower than the price tag for building new coal-fired power plants, he said.

But watt for watt, the cheapest, most reliable way to generate electricity is still a coal-fired generator, fitted with the minimum pollution control devices required by law.

With or without state requirements, California-based Orion Energy is planning a 135-acre wind farm, straddled between two townships that border U.S. 41 in Benton County. The location means the 400-foot, three-blade turbines will almost certainly be visible from the highway.

With no state incentives, Duke Energy recently announced it would buy 100 megawatts from Orion Energy, after the farm is up and running in 2007.

The project sprung up entirely without state incentives. Duke says they are hedging their bets against the prospect of the federal government requiring stricter standards for coal-fired generating plants, to combat the effects of global warming, said Angeline Protogere, spokeswoman for Duke.

“We feel it is a good long-term investment,” she said.

By Steve Walsh / Post-Tribune staff writer

Contact Steve Walsh at 648-3120 or swalsh@post-trib.com.

post-trib.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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