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Sitting cosy at the crossroads -- Indiana's wind export business

Indiana, which began 2008 with no wind plant, will end the year with more than 530 MW online, all without any state law for renewable energy to spur the frenzied activity. Part of the reason for the rapid market growth is that wind power generated in Indiana is positioned to help satisfy laws in nearby states requiring a minimum level of renewable energy in the supply mix.

From Indiana, wind power generators have access to two regional electricity markets, the Midwest Independent Transmission System Organisation (MISO) and the PJM Interconnection to the east. The grids connect Indiana wind projects with other states where renewables portfolio standard (RPS) laws require utilities to source a rising percentage of power from renewables.

"There's a sense that Indiana is the crossroads of America in terms of where it is on the grid," says Jesse Kharbanda of Hoosier Environmental Council, an Indianapolis-based advocacy for renewable energy. "It's interconnected both to PJM and to MISO, and can sell into these increasingly deregulated wholesale markets. That's exemplified by the Fowler Ridge plans, for which much of the output is going to be merchant power."

The Fowler Ridge wind project in Benton County, developed by BP Alternative Energy, is largely responsible for Indiana's big jump in wind capacity. By year's end, BP will bring 400 MW online of a big 750 MW wind plant. The first phase will include 182 Vestas 1.65 MW turbines along with 40 Clipper 2.5 MW machines. The second phase, at an additional 350 MW, could begin construction as soon as next year.

Virginia-based Dominion will partner with BP to own 650 MW, while BP will retain sole ownership of the remaining 100 MW. BP and Dominion estimate they will invest more than $1 billion in the wind farm once all 462 wind turbines are up and running.

While that project is under construction, Indiana's first wind plant came online this spring. In April, the 130.5 MW Benton County Wind Farm connected 87 GE 1.5 MW turbines near the Illinois state line. The project is the second joint effort between Vision Energy of Ohio and Orion Energy Group of California. The companies also collaborated on last year's 150 MW Camp Grove Wind Farm in central Illinois.

"There's a whole lot of activity in Illinois," says Vision Energy's Turner Hunt. "And much of that is spilling over into the north-western part of Indiana. At least three other projects are proposed in Benton County. But there are other prime counties in Indiana as well. Given the pace of development that's happened in the last six to twelve months, some folks, including ourselves, don't think an RPS is absolutely necessary."

Coal-centric

Indiana's dominant utilities, American Electric Power and Duke Energy, want to bring renewables online without the burden of a state-imposed mandate, a preference they share with most other utilities in America. Nevertheless, Kharbanda believes an Indiana RPS is both overdue and a good bet for next year's legislative session. He says a 10% RPS would amount to roughly 6000 MW by 2018, if not sooner.

"We have had a very coal-centric administration these last four years," he says. "But they're coming to recognise that they need to do something about the carbon risk problem. I think that's been a main driver in their increasingly altered view on an RPS."

To complete the transformation, Indiana is courting manufacturing potential for renewable energy. Last month, Indianapolis hosted the first Windiana conference, an effort to bring wind industry stakeholders together for discussing the possibilities of attracting component makers and other related commerce. "Yes, it's wonderful that there's wind power coming online here," says Kharbanda. "But we're not going to really realise the true benefits unless there's some driver like an RPS, because the states which have dominated wind manufacturing are the states that have renewable energy standards."

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