Indiana, the fastest growing in wind power

This year, construction of about 300 megawatts of new wind power electricity — mostly expansions of the Meadow Lake and Fowler Ridge wind farms in White and Benton counties — has been approved by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

However, looking beyond 2010, the IURC has just one application for a wind farm under review. If approved, the Spartan Wind Farm phase 1 by Duke Energy Generation Services would generate 101 megawatts of power on a Newton County site due to open in early 2011.

One megawatt of power is enough electricity for 225 to 300 households for a year. The national recession and uncertain state policies concerning alternative power sources have caused the slowdown, said Horizon Wind project manager Ryan Brown. Horizon Wind is building Meadow Lake wind farm in White County, a large site visible to travelers along I-65 in Northern Indiana.

"We have seen a $2 billion investment by the industry in Indiana, and that is a great start for the state, which could continue if there are some strategic moves on the policy front," Brown said.

The wind energy industry nationwide has sought either a national or state-by-state requirement for a percentage of electric power to be produced by wind power and other renewable alternatives to coal and natural gas.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, developers of Indiana wind farms feeding power to the multistate electric grid added about 905 megawatts of wind power in 2009.

That put Indiana second only to Texas in construction of new generating capacity from wind turbines last year, according to AWEA, which held its annual national convention in Dallas last week, with more than 23,000 in attendance. In 2008, the association said Indiana had the fastest increase in wind-generated power in the country.

At the end of 2009, with 11 companies manufacturing or maintaining wind turbines, Indiana had climbed to 13th from 50th in wind power generating capacity in just two years, according to association figures.

The state has been attractive for wind development because the towering turbines are welcomed in many communities, access to connect with the regional power grid is relatively easy, and the state has suitable, windy areas, according to a study.

"We sort of started from near zero, so the increase seems pretty great," said Eric Burch of the Indiana Office of Energy Development. "It will continue to be a robust development."

About $2.1 billion has been invested in Indiana wind power, which includes at least $271 million in local spending, according to Travis Murphy, program manager for renewable energy for the state energy development office. The state now has about 616 utility-sized wind turbines.

The timing of the investments gave a boost to communities in Northern Indiana during the national economic downturn, developers said.

An additional $1.1 billion in projects have state approval, according to state figures, and about 16 Indiana counties have reported interest from wind farm developers in erecting additional turbines in their areas, state officials said.

Yet Indiana lawmakers have not adopted a renewable energy goal. Brown said neighboring Ohio has a goal of 12.5 percent by 2025, and Illinois set 25 percent by 2025. "That lack of policy is, in part, why we are seeing a slowdown" in more wind farms, he said.

By Bruce C. Smith, The Indianapolis Star,