NS SERIES: More wind farms likely in Indiana’s future, but probably not near Fort Wayne and Allen County
Editor’s note: This is the second and final day of stories about wind energy and its future in the Fort Wayne area and Indiana.
You likely won’t see a wind farm sprouting in Allen County, but you probably will see more arrays of slowly revolving wind turbines springing up elsewhere in the state.
Indiana still has a lot of untapped wind energy potential, said both Tristan Vance, director of the Indiana Office of Energy Development, and Jodi Perras, manager of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio.
“The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that Indiana has the potential to generate enough wind power to supply all of our energy needs,” Perras said.
In 2012, researchers estimated Indiana had the potential to generate 377,000 gigawatt hours/year of electricity from wind, while the total energy consumed in Indiana in 2011 was 359,788 gigawatt hours, The NREL reported on its website at https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy14osti/60914.pdf.
The wind power generation would need to be combined with energy storage, but there’s certainly a potential to generate all the power Indiana needs with wind, solar and energy-storage technology, said Perras, whose environmental group has pushed for greater use of renewable energy and a reduction in the use of pollution-causing, coal-fired power plants.
In Indiana, each county controls whether a wind farm can locate there, typically through its planning and zoning laws, Vance said.
Wind farms are not a permitted land use in Allen County, said Paul Blisk, deputy land use director for the Allen County Department of Planning Services.
“We are too suburban,” Blisk said.
Zoning laws typically require large setbacks, or distances between wind turbines and structures, such as farm buildings or homes. That doesn’t leave much room for constructing a wind farm in Allen County, Blisk said.
Wind energy representatives met with county planning and zoning officials about 10 years ago to get a better understanding of Allen County’s land use and zoning policies, Blisk said. There has been no other contact since that time.
If a company did want to apply to build a wind farm in Allen County, it would have to file an application for a use variance with the Board of Zoning Appeals and go through the review and public hearing process, Blisk said.
Allen County zoning regulations do have options for property owners who want to install a small wind turbine serving an individual residence on a single parcel of land, Blisk said. Depending on where the property is located, construction of the tower may be allowed or the property owner may have to apply for a special use permit from the Board of Zoning Appeals, he said.
Currently, 14 wind farms operate in Indiana, where their 1,203 wind turbines have the capacity to produce up to 2,114 megawatts of electricity, according to information from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) and Indiana Department of Administration.
On average, 1 megawatt of capacity can supply enough electricity to power about 750 homes for a year, various energy sources said.
Three more wind farm projects have been approved by the IURC – Spartan Wind Farm in Newton County in northwest Indiana, Jordan Creek Wind Farm in Warren County west of Lafayette, and Meadow Lake Wind Farm, Phase VI, in Benton County in northwest Indiana.
Sections of the state with good potential for wind farms include much of northern Indiana and parts of central and east-central Indiana, Vance said.
“The best wind corridors tend to be flat areas without a lot of obstructions,” he said.
Most of the wind-generated electricity Indiana produces now goes onto the national electric grid system and doesn’t stay in the state, Perras said.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
To spur wind energy development, the state created a Wind Working Group in 2005, which looked at what Indiana needed to put in place to encourage wind energy firms to come to Indiana, Vance said. That included creating model wind zoning ordinances that could be adopted or adapted by Indiana counties to fit their wants and needs.
While the number of wind farms in the state has increased steadily, many projects have faced opposition from at least some residents in the proposed wind farm area. A few proposed wind farms have been defeated by local residents, such as in Whitley County, where people reportedly organized strong opposition to a project a few years ago.
Some residents in Miami, Fulton and Cass counties in north-central Indiana also have opposed allowing wind farms in their areas.
However, wind energy is clean and cheap — two reasons the Sierra Club wants utilities to use more of it and to cut back on use of coal-powered generating plants, Perras said.
One criticism of wind and solar energy has been that there are days when wind or solar farms won’t produce power because there is no wind or sun. Utilities say they have to keep their coal-powered generating plants operating to provide electricity when that happens, Perras said.
The Sierra Club urges utilities to retire older generating plants and replace them with ones that are more flexible, Perras said. The flexible power plants would allow utilities to ramp up electrical generation when wind and solar farms aren’t producing power and scale back coal-powered generation when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining.
“They (utilities) are pushing this myth that the lights are going to go off,” she added.
INDIANA MICHIGAN POWER
Indiana Michigan Power, which supplies electricity to much of the Fort Wayne area, plans to triple the amount of wind-generation power capacity it has available by 2035, spokesman Tracy Warner said.
Customers tell the utility they want greater use of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, and I &M is trying to provide it, Warner said.
Currently, 50 percent of the power I & M provides is generated free of polluting emissions, he said. All of the power generated goes into the electric grid, so utilities and customers can’t determine specifically where the electricity they use was generated.
I & M has been using wind-generated power for more than 10 years, Warner said.
The utility currently buys power from the Headwaters Wind Farm south of Winchester in Randolph County and the Wildcat Wind Farm between Anderson and Kokomo in Madison and Tipton counties, Warner said.
Those wind farms have 450 megawatts of power-generation capacity, and I & M wants to increase its total available wind-generated capacity to 1,350 megawatts by 2035, he said.
“Now that is the long-term plan, and long-term plans do change,” he said.
When wind generation is at full capacity, I & M’s current contracted capacity of 450 megawatts provides enough electricity to power about 150,000 homes simultaneously, Warner said.
I & M’s parent company, American Electric Power (AEP), also plans to increase its use of renewable energy, Warner said. By 2030, AEP hopes to add 5,295 megawatts of wind generation capacity and 3,065 megawatts of solar generation, Warner said.
In addition, I & M also owns four solar energy farms — one in southern Marion County near Indianapolis, two in the South Bend area, and one in Watervliet, Mich., in southwest Michigan, Warner said. They are “pilot” projects so the utility can see how well they work in this area.
Warner said I & M also has six hydroelectric power generation sites on the St. Joseph River in northern Indiana — the St. Joseph River that flows through South Bend, not the one flowing to Fort Wayne.
The utility also operates the coal-fired generating plant at Rockford along the Ohio River in southern Indiana and the Cook nuclear power-generation plant along Lake Michigan in southwest Michigan.
In its proposed Integrated Resource Plan, however, I & M said the plan assumes it will allow its lease for use of the Rockport 2 coal-generating plant to expire in 2022 and that it will retire its Rockport 1 coal-generating plant before 2028. I & M also plans to retire the Cook plant’s Units 1 and 2 in 2034 and 2037, respectively.
I & M would replace the lost coal and nuclear generating capacity through the increased use of wind and solar generation, new energy storage capabilities, and demand-side management and energy-efficiency programs, the plan said.
To read the plan, click here.
Currently, I & M’s IM Solar program allows people to support solar energy production by purchasing blocks of power beginning at 93 cents per block, Warner said. A typical household uses about 1,000 kilowatts of power per month, which would be 20 blocks of power for a total cost of $18.60 per month, it said on the IM Solar webpage, https://www.indianamichiganpower.com/account/bills/manage/IMSolar/.
BY THE NUMBERS
• 84,405 megawatts: U.S. installed wind energy generation capacity as of June 2017, an increase from 2,539 megawatts at the end of year 2000. The growth represents an increase of more than 3,200 percent.
• 38 percent: Percentage of renewable electricity generated by wind in 2016 as compared to 44 percent by hydroelectric and 6 percent by solar.
• 14: Number of operating wind farms in Indiana
• 1,203: Number of wind turbines operating on those wind farms
• 2,114 megawatts: The current electrical generation capacity by wind power in Indiana. For comparison, that is about 1/10 of the wind power generating capacity Texas, the U.S. state with the most wind power generating capacity, had in mid-2017.
• 10 percent: The voluntary Clean Energy Portfolio Goal that Indiana hopes to reach by 2025, which means 10 percent of all electricity used in the state would come from clean energy sources, such as wind, solar and hydroelectric.
Sources: Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, Indiana Department of Administration, and “2017 Indiana Renewable Energy Resources Study,” by Purdue University in West Lafayette