The coal mines dotting Indiana's southwest corner are quickly giving way to a new source of energy that will help power Hoosier State factories and farms in the decades to come — the sun.
Solar projects totaling 22,000 megawatts of capacity —- 50% greater than the sum of Indiana's coal fleet — are seeking to plug into the two wholesale power grids that cover parts of the state, PJM Interconnection and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator.
The boom is part of a broader trend playing out across the Midwest and the United States as solar costs continue to fall. But coal-reliant Indiana has emerged as an unlikely solar hot spot, with more new capacity seeking interconnection than California last year, according to a recent analysis by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In fact, only Texas and Arizona saw more gigawatts of solar capacity added to interconnection queues.
The surge in development is a product of demand, both from big companies aiming to meet sustainability goals and from utilities like Northern Indiana Public Service Co. that are retiring coal plants in favor of renewables. The state is also positioned at the seam between MISO and PJM, the nation's largest wholesale electricity market.
Policymakers and planners in Indiana have tried to get ahead of the issue to help rural communities develop solar development guidelines and avoid a repeat of the wind bans and moratoriums.
Indiana University's Environmental Resilience Institute, which at the time was led by EPA official Janet McCabe, worked with the nonprofit Great Plains Institute last year to produce a model solar ordinance for local governments as well as a renewable energy guide to help them understand renewable energy markets and development trends.