Burning coal is a dirty and expensive way to produce electricity, which is why the industrialized world is moving as quickly as possible away from reliance on it. In 2001, coal was the largest source of electricity in 32 states, but that figure dropped to 18 states by 2017.
Indiana remains one of the states most dependent on coal. Ours is a heavily industrialized state, and for decades, coal was a dependable way to meet Indiana's energy demands. But even here, where climate change is still doubted by many and state government has done its best to preserve the status quo, things are changing.
Last year, an analysis by the Clean Energy Trust and Environmental Entrepreneurs found alternative energy production is employing five times as many people in the state as the fossil fuel industry.
And last week, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported that Indiana now ranks 12th among the states for wind power production – a part of the renewable-fuel industry that was virtually nonexistent here a decade ago.
“Since 2008,” the business publication reported, “developers have installed more than 1,000 wind turbines across the state, chiefly on 16 large wind farms, that crank out 2,317 megawatts of electricity. That's enough to power more than 1 million homes.”
What motorists may see as flat, boring countryside in northern and central Indiana are areas that nurture faster winds ideal for energy production. And as the demand for wind energy continues to grow nationally, better technology will allow producers to look at other areas of Indiana as well.
“Wind energy will continue to grow because of advances in the technology, and the way the turbines and blades are built,” wind industry lobbyist Tony Samuel told the Business Journal. “They're able to capture more wind, even in parts of the state where 10 or 20 years ago, they weren't able to.”
Noting Indiana's “immense potential” in the industry, the American Wind Energy Association announced its 2021 CleanPower convention and trade show will be in Indianapolis, the IBJ reported.
Wind power production doesn't come without problems and concerns, including noise pollution and the tendency for huge turbine farms to blot out natural scenery. But there are misconceptions, too. Scientists were quick to refute President Donald Trump's assertion that wind farms might cause cancer. More birds are killed in collisions with communication towers and the windows of homes and businesses than by wind turbines, according to the Sierra Club. The American Bird Conservancy is working with the wind industry to encourage wind farm designs that will reduce those deaths.
Wind power provides just 5% of Indiana's electricity now. But the national interest in Indiana's wind power potential will be enhanced by demand from the state's utilities as old plants are shuttered within the next few years. As this new industry takes shape, the Indiana legislature should develop policies and regulations that encourage and guide its growth.