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Developers pitch 16 GW of solar in coal-fueled Indiana


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Developers pitch 16 GW of solar in coal-fueled Indiana

Indiana's Lake County is exploring changes to its land-use rules that could pave the way for the first truly large-scale solar farms in the state and some of the largest in the Midwest.

The Lake County Council on April 14 approved a resolution for the county's Plan Commission to consider amendments to the local zoning code to allow for large-scale solar projects. The council must vote again to give final approval to the proposed changes, which mark an important step in a mounting initiative to unlock the potential of solar power in a state that has no renewable energy purchasing mandate.

Historically reliant on coal, Indiana's utilities plan to shutter more than two-thirds of the state's coal-fired generating capacity in the next two decades, including more than 7,500 MW in the next 10 years, a recent S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis found.

"We build projects where there is a strong solar resource, access to the transmission grid, supportive landowners who want to participate in a solar project, and customer demand," Ben Lambrecht, a spokesman for Chicago-headquartered renewable energy developer Invenergy LLC, said in an email. "All of these exist in Indiana."

16 GW proposed

The Lake County resolution was sparked by Invenergy's proposed 200-MW Foundry Works Solar Energy Center. More than 10 times the capacity of the state's largest operating solar project, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data, the $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. It is slated to begin construction in 2022.

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Invenergy and other solar developers have lined up roughly 100 proposals, some coupled with big batteries, grid operator data shows. Half of the solar projects, combining for around 7,300 MW, would interconnect to the Midcontinent ISO, the wholesale transmission operator that covers the largest swath of the state. The other half, offering nearly 8,800 MW, are in the PJM Interconnection, which covers parts of Indiana served by American Electric Power Co. Inc.

A total of more than 16,000 MW of solar resources, with online dates mainly between 2021 and 2023, are proposed in a state that had just 428 MW of operating behind-the-meter and larger-scale solar capacity at the start of 2020, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Utility demand

Although many of the projects are speculative and their developers are unidentified, the upsurge in development activity points toward a reshaping of Indiana's power mix, 66% of which was coal-fired and less than 1% was powered by the sun in 2018, the most recent data available.

According to S&P Global Market Intelligence data, Invenergy; EDP Renewables North America LLC, a subsidiary of EDP - Energias de Portugal SA; and Capital Dynamics Inc., an affiliate of Switzerland-based Capital Dynamics AG, are behind several solar farms under development in Indiana. Those developers and others have plans for 18 installations with around 1,000 MW of generating capacity, predominantly underpinned by power purchase agreements or utility ownership.

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EDP's 200-MW Riverstart Solar Park in Randolph County, for instance, expected online in 2022, has a 20-year contract with Hoosier Energy Rural Electric Cooperative Inc. Capital Dynamics in February announced a long-term power supply deal with the Indiana Municipal Power Agency for its 100-MW Greenfield Project in Hancock County.

Invenergy is developing several Indiana solar farms in addition to Foundry Works, including its 250-MW Fairbanks Solar Facility in Sullivan County. The company has not yet signed a power purchase agreement for its solar projects in the state, but utilities plan to contract for thousands of MW of new solar capacity.

Northern Indiana Public Service Co. currently is reviewing bids in response to its 2019 solicitation for 2,600 MW of renewable energy as it phases out more than 2,000 MW of coal capacity, including the 1,625-MW R.M. Schahfer plant by 2023. The NiSource Inc. subsidiary received 96 bids, equal to 17,200 MW, according to a company spokesperson. The utility plans to propose the winning projects to Indiana energy regulators in the second half of 2020.

Duke Energy Indiana LLC, an affiliate of Duke Energy Corp., plans to replace more than 4,100 MW of coal with a portfolio of natural gas, wind and solar.

Lake County Council member Christian Jorgensen hopes his district, which includes the Foundry Works project, will benefit from the large-scale solar farms emerging in Indiana. "It almost sounds too good to be true," Jorgensen said during an April 9 meeting on Invenergy's proposal. "We would not want to miss out on an opportunity of this size."