Three large solar farms proposed for southern Indiana are expected to double the state’s solar capacity. Capital Dynamics and Tenaska hope to build projects in Pike, Gibson, and Knox counties adding 500 megawatts of solar.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Indiana has installed just more than 450 megawatts of solar to date.
The solar farms could also help boost economies in rural counties. Each solar farm is expected to pump at least $800,000 a year into their respective county's GDP — or gross domestic product.
Ashley Willis is the executive director with the Pike County Economic Development Corporation. She said when Indianapolis Power and Light redistributed assets from its coal plant in Pike County to a natural gas plant in Morgan County, Pike lost about $1.2 million in tax revenue this year — including $300,000 for schools.
Willis said the new solar farm will offset a third of those dollars.
“The solar farm, it couldn't have came at a better time for Pike County," she said.
IPL's Petersburg coal plant is expected to close two of its four coal units by 2023 — which is likely to lead to other economic losses. Willis said coal has been the lifeblood of the county, but its up to the challenge of transitioning to renewable energy sources.
"Yes, we are facing many hurdles in the near future, but we are evolving with technology and innovation," she said. "And I think that's important to note – that we are not just a sleepy little town that is upset that we're — coal's going away and we can't replace those coal jobs. So we're looking forward to the next technology and the next innovation to attract new business and Capital Dynamics is the first one like that. So we're excited for that."
Indiana University professor Ken Richards helped produce economic impact reports for the projects. He said, because these counties neighbor each other, the projects could have a larger, regional economic impact.
“The cumulative effect of doing all of them near each other, if that happens, is even greater — because one county has positive effects spilling over to the next county," Richards said.
Richards said these large solar installations are significant, but not surprising as more utilities move toward renewable energy sources and away from coal.
All three solar installations are expected to be complete some time in 2023. Though each project would employ several workers during construction, only four full-time employees will be needed to maintain each solar farm.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.