Solar power is coming to customers of Indiana Michigan Power. It is emission-free and is becoming a cost-effective source of power for our customers. So, we are looking forward to solar becoming a much larger part of our generation fleet.
Later this year, I&M will pass an historic milestone: More than half of I&M’s generation capacity will be emission-free. As we adapt to changing rules and customer needs, the percentage of emission-free power will increase as I&M adds solar to our generation portfolio.
Our interest in solar generation isn’t different than that of homeowners who choose to install panels on their roofs. We want to reduce our carbon footprint and increase our use of renewable energy, helping our customers and our company achieve a common goal.
I&M plans to take a significant first step in building our solar generation by adding 16 megawatts of solar capacity by the end of 2016, equivalent to installing rooftop solar on 3,200 homes. Our plans, now pending before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, call for five solar facilities to be located in areas served by I&M.
By operating and owning the facilities, I&M will gain valuable knowledge as our determined and adaptive employees become proficient in operating solar facilities and incorporating the solar energy onto the electric grid. We will use those best practices in planning additional solar facilities, as our long-term plans anticipate eventually adding more than 500 megawatts of solar to serve our customers.
I&M is dedicated to serving our customers’ energy needs, and customers have the right to choose to install solar systems. We support that choice and will work to help customers with those installations. However, cost data show that larger-scale, central solar costs 30 percent to 50 percent less than rooftop solar.
Adding solar further broadens our already-diverse generation portfolio, which also includes nuclear power, hydroelectric, coal and wind. The recent addition of 200â megawatts of wind power from the Headwaters Wind Farm about 75 miles south of Fort Wayne marks an 80 percent increase in our wind generation. Diversity in generation sources provides greater flexibility. We will continue to add renewables where and when they make sense for our customers.
We are also addressing carbon emissions with ambitious, responsible programs to encourage our customers to use energy more efficiently. Though you may have heard that the statewide Energizing Indiana program offered energy efficiency programs ended Dec. 31, I&M continues to offer residential and business customers a variety of customer-friendly incentives and information to help conserve energy (see www.electricideas.com).
The move to add solar comes even as I&M works to improve our traditional energy delivery systems to better serve our customers. We are modernizing and significantly improving the reliability of our grid by rebuilding lines and replacing equipment which has served us well for multiple decades. By enhancing reliability while maintaining affordable customer rates, together we can make our communities stronger.
Paul Chodak III is president and chief operating officer of Indiana Michigan Power. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.