David Hoppe

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:: Solar Power in Indiana, finally

by David Hoppe

It seems Mike Pence didn’t get the memo.

Indiana’s governor has gone out of his way to rail against the Obama administration’s efforts to cut our country’s carbon footprint. In July, Pence threatened not to implement the Clean Power Plan, federal regulations aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. “The best way for this rule to be approved is to have it withdrawn completely,” he blustered.

Pence steadfastly defends Indiana’s 20th century approach to energy — burning coal, and plenty of it — like there’s no tomorrow. Which, come to think of it, may turn out to be the case for Hoosiers who inhale coal-fired particulates on a daily basis.

Given Indiana’s predilection for pay-to-play politics, it’s been tempting to assume that Pence is merely acting as a mouthpiece for the state’s biggest energy providers.

But it appears the governor, as with his support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is again behind the curve of events.

Duke Energy just won approval from Indiana regulators to purchase 20 megawatts of power from four solar farms being built in Kokomo, as well as Clay, Vigo and Sullivan Counties. The project in Kokomo, a $10 million solar farm to be built by Inovateus Solar, a South Bend company, will repurpose a 25-acre former federal Superfund site once occupied by a steel mill.

Duke is Indiana’s largest electric provider. It generates around 7,500 megawatts of electricity for roughly 800,000 customers. Seen in this light, 20 megawatts might look like a flash in the pan.

But this initial effort in Indiana is part of a larger push Duke is undertaking with renewable energy. On its web site, Duke says it has already invested more the $4 billion in wind and solar facilities, with plans to spend approximately $3 billion more in the next five years. Customers now receive more than 700 megawatts of solar capacity generated by 7,000 solar installations in the six states served by Duke.

That’s still just a fraction of the total output required in a state like Indiana. But this is early days. When you weigh the costs associated with mining and transporting coal, then retrofitting power plants to make it less toxic, against the increasing price competitiveness of renewable energy technologies, the trajectory of our energy future becomes clear. The days of mining and drilling are numbered. Renewable technologies are on the verge of making energy cheaper and better.

Think about it: Not that long ago, people were saying solar power couldn’t work in Indiana. It’s too cloudy here, the winters are too long. That was then. Now you have Duke Energy investing in a 20-year power purchase agreement that will have 21,000 solar panels online in Kokomo by next spring.

This isn’t Mike Pence’s dreaded federal government imposing a new energy regime. It’s Duke Energy trying to capture a competitive edge. The market is speaking, but the governor keeps covering his ears.