Last year the Indiana legislature passed anti-solar legislation backed by utilities concerned about losing revenue as a result of customers reducing their dependence on the grid. Yet even with this policy disadvantage, solar is growing across the state. Families and businesses, whether motivated by energy affordability, economic revitalization, environmental stewardship or civic leadership, are turning to solar. In fact, solar is popular in both urban and rural Indiana, across the political spectrum, and regardless of age, gender, race or religion.
Let’s take a look at some of the people and places going solar …
First stop: Ancilla College in Plymouth, Indiana. Ancilla is a Catholic nursing school operated by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. They recently cut the ribbon on an 83 kW solar system, following an investment in energy efficiency across their facilities. Why? “We Poor Handmaids seek to show by our choices the respect we have for all of God’s creation or, as Pope Francis says in Laudato Sí to protect our common home,’” said PHJC Provincial Sister Judith Diltz. “Our choice to invest in solar panels will help us be less dependent on fossil fuels for energy.”
Down the road from Plymouth is Culver Academy, a boarding school with a 115- year history of leadership and citizenship development drawing kids from all over the world. Culver is also in the process of developing its own 24kW solar project as part of a comprehensive sustainability plan that is rooted in the conviction that sustainability is core to good citizenship and leadership. Culver also recognizes the practical reality that lowering electricity costs can allow the institution to serve more students and enhance the lived experience of the student body.
“Having solar on campus lowers our operating costs, but it also gives us an on-campus hands-on learning experience for students who are interested in the technology, in the economics of sustainability, or in the ethical issues that surround resource choices,” said Chris Kline, a Senior Instructor and Director of Sustainability. “This is the kind of experience that is an expectation of parents, alum and students of a world-class educational institution in this day and age.”
Both urban and rural communities are using solar developments to foster affordability and bolster economic growth. For example, in Gary, a downtown revitalization effort is pinning its hopes on a 45-unit mixed-income housing development which will be “energy neutral” by virtue of rooftop solar panels. Meanwhile, in rural Richmond, Indiana, the local municipal utility is nearing completion on a 10 MW solar array that will produce enough electricity to power 1000 homes. In a recent article, project developer Pat Yeoman explained to a local reporter that the project would make Richmond less dependent on coal and nuclear power, and will add no costs to customer bills, compared to sticking with traditional utility resources.
Way down in the Southern tip of the state, even Vectren Energy, a utility powered 96 percent by coal, is completing its first 4 MW of solar projects in Evansville and intends to continue to “diversify” its mix by adding 50 MW of solar by 2020. This is a slow start, to be sure, but it demonstrates that even the most carbon intensive utilities are being challenged to respond to customer interest in solar power.
Despite efforts to keep the lid on solar, success stories keep bubbling to the surface, fueled by customer desire for a full range of benefits from affordability in Gary, to energy reliability and independence in Richmond, and from leadership at Culver to stewardship at Ancilla. We certainly hope that the Indiana legislature will revisit its policies that discourage solar development and get behind customer-driven efforts to bring solar’s benefits to every corner of the state.