• Steve Eberly

Indiana: The Sunshine State?

North Carolina Quaker Jeremiah Cox built the first grist mill in Richmond, Indiana more than 200 years ago on a renewable resource – a fork of the Whitewater River. Richmond grew famous for its steel plows and Starr Pianos, as well as the jazz recordings made at Gennett Records. But today, Richmond is making a name for itself for another reason: the power of the sun.

Visitors to southeast Richmond’s Forest Hills Country Club will soon see something new just across the road from the golf course, as thousands of solar panels from the Indiana Municipal Power Agency are built on a solar farm. That new solar installation joins another one that you can easily see from I-70, when driving west from Richmond.

In all, construction crews will install some 55-thousand panels in this new renewable energy project that will bring both jobs and a major new renewable resource to Wayne County. Once that project is finished next year, Richmond-area solar farms will generate enough energy to power more than 5,000 homes!

It’s a good deal for new development, for jobs, and for keeping electric rates in the area low. And the project won unanimous approval from both the local planning commission and the city council. The Richmond project is just the beginning of a coming solar boom in Indiana.

The Indiana Municipal Power Agency, which is developing the Richmond project, has eight more parks currently under construction and another eight solar arrays in the planning phase. In northern Indiana, NIPSCO is in the middle of a process to build out a 2.3-gigawatt series of solar projects – enough to power more than 1.5 million homes.

Richmond is not alone in seeking solar. The Lake County Council just took the first votes to begin a process for a new 200 MW farm. As S&P Market Intelligence recently noted in a report, “this $200 million project, located near Eagle Creek Township in northwestern Indiana, would create hundreds of construction jobs and funnel more than $100 million into the local economy in coming years through property taxes and payments to landowners.”

And other major solar developments are under construction or proposed in Shelby, Clinton, White, Howard, and Sullivan Counties. According to the Solar Industries Association there’s more that 16 gigawatts of solar planned for Indiana between 2021 and 2023. Keep in mind that at the start of this year we had under 500 megawatts of solar in Indiana. So the amount of solar generation is expected to grow more than thirty-fold!

Maybe you still will head to California, Arizona, or Florida for that sunny vacation, but I think it’s pretty clear that Indiana’s sunshine can help power the electric grid. Nationally, those who follow solar developments are making some interesting projections. Over the next five years, total capacity of solar installations will more than double. So, it’s a good thing that the Indiana is part of that national trend.