Wind-energy proponents did not convince state Rep. Jack Lutz on Tuesday that Indiana should require electric companies to generate at least 10 percent of their electricity from wind, solar and other renewable sources by 2017.
“I was very thrilled when I heard in August that Duke Energy did it voluntarily,” said Lutz, a Republican from Anderson who chairs the House Utilities and Energy Committee. “I think that’s proof we don’t need to mandate it.”
Indiana’s first wind farm – to include up to 135 wind turbines – is under development on 10,000 acres in Benton County. Duke Energy Indiana has agreed to buy electricity from the project.
During a day-long meeting Tuesday of the Indiana General Assembly’s Regulatory Flexibility Committee, which Lutz co-chairs, spokesmen said Indiana’s electric companies have been experimenting with generating electricity from the sun, animal waste, switch grass, wind and landfill gas.
But that’s just “nibbling around the edges,” testified Ed Simcox, president of the Indiana Energy Association. “The major barrier to renewables is cost.”
He and other electric company spokesmen urged lawmakers not to “tinker with” a utility regulatory scheme that has kept electricity rates in Indiana among the lowest in the United States.
Nearly all of Indiana’s electricity is generated by coal-burning power plants.
“Indiana’s power plants place it among the nation’s top five polluting states in the country,” testified Stephen Jay, chairman of the department of health at the Indiana University School of Medicine.
He urged legislators to “dial down disease rates and death rates” caused by coal-fired power plants.
Les Zimmerman, speaking on behalf of the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, said of Indiana’s wind energy potential, “I would hate to see the state of Indiana playing catch-up on this issue like we are having to do in the area of biofuels.”
Mandating utilities to generate a certain percentage of their total electricity from renewable resources “is not a radical idea,” said Jesse Kharbanda, policy advocate for Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Twenty states have enacted renewable electricity standards and legislation is pending in 15 other states.”
Hoosier native Wayne Hoffman of Oakland, Calif.-based Orion Energy, which is building Indiana’s first wind farm, testified, “If Indiana fails to enact strong policy, it will lose billions of dollars in renewable energy investments to other states, most notably to Illinois.”
As time was running out at the hearing, Kharbanda presented legislators a study claiming that a renewable electricity standard phased in over 10 years would increase electric utility rates in Indiana by only 1.14 percent over the next decade.
Wind energy proponents took longer than utility industry officials to make their case, prompting Lutz to cut off speeches. “I don’t mean to be rude,” he said. “I hope we can move through this fairly quickly.”
By the time proponents began presenting their evidence, only half a dozen members of the 23-person committee remained present for the hearing on the campus at Ball State University.
By Seth Slabaugh
Contact news reporter Seth Slabaugh at 213-5834.