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State policy delays wind farm

MUNCIE – Longtime plans to construct a wind farm in Randolph County have been put off, at least for now, because Indiana officials are so far unwilling to commit to more renewable energy across the state.

“I think this is starting to get in the way of bringing projects to fruition, not just in Randolph County but across the state,” said Kevin Law, director of the Randolph Economic Development Corp. in Winchester. “The Randolph County project has not been canceled, but it is being back-burnered for a project in Ohio, which recently adopted a (Renewable Portfolio Standard). We are losing our competitive edge.”

About 30 states have enacted a RPS, which requires utilities to increase the amount of wind or other renewable energy in their electricity portfolio until they reach a specified target by a specified date. Ohio’s RPS, for example, calls for 25 percent renewable electricity by 2025.

Indiana has 30,000 MW of total installed electricity generation capacity, of which wind comprises 1,036 MW. That’s less wind power than has been installed in Illinois (1,548 MW), and Minnesota (1,796 MW), both of which have a RPS. But Indiana’s wind capacity is more than in some Midwestern states that have a RPS, including Ohio (8 MW) and Michigan (143 MW).

The wind energy that has been constructed so far in Indiana has all been in West Central Indiana, Law noted, which he compared to low-hanging fruit because that area has greater wind resources than other areas of Indiana.

Randolph County has worked diligently to attract wind energy investment. Developers have leased tens of thousands of acres from local landowners for prospective wind farms. The Area Plan Commission has crafted a pro-wind zoning ordinance that encourages wind development. The Randolph County commissioners have contracted with the legal team that facilitated the developments of wind farms in White and Benton counties.

Now, just six months before the construction of a 100 megawatt (MW) phase of a wind farm was scheduled to begin, a developer has issued a 12-month project delay, Law said.

Indiana has a robust transmission network, adequate wind resources, and open agricultural areas suitable for development, Law said.

“Unfortunately, wind development is driven as much by policy as it is by the physical environment,” Law said. “The lack of a policy is something that could very well interfere with, if not cancel, wind projects in this part of the state. Is it worth the risk to not have a policy? Does Indiana want to take the gamble and see what happens, or be aggressive, competitive and pro-business?”

Most wind farms are built by developers who then sell the electricity to utilities, Law said. “The RPS guarantees developers the ability to sell their power back to the grid,” he said. “If a developer can build 50 miles from Randolph County in a state where utilities are required to purchase the electricity, it takes away our competitive edge.”

In January, Jane Jankowski, the press secretary for Gov. Mitch Daniels, told The Star Press: “Gov. Daniels supports establishing a state renewable energy standard that would take into consideration the full array of renewable and alternative energy sources, including clean coal.”

Clean air advocates responded by saying coal is not renewable. Renewable energy is wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.

The American Wind Energy Association said many of the wind energy projects being built in Indiana are being built to satisfy other states’ renewable energy standards, so it is state RPSs that are in fact driving the market.