Sean Mobley: Indiana’s time to get renewable energy right is now

Keywords Opinion / Viewpoint
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This month, business leaders, scientists, activists and more are gathering in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for the United Nations climate conference known as COP28. A bright spot on the agenda is widespread diplomatic support for tripling the deployment of renewable-energy capacity by the end of this decade. That’s a huge win for central states like Indiana, where up to 75% of America’s large renewable-energy projects are projected to take place as the nation works to meet these ambitious yet attainable global climate goals.

Indeed, Indiana is primed to lead America’s efforts to accelerate the clean-energy transition. Large, utility-scale renewable-energy development requires a lot of land—and fortunately, Indiana has it in abundance. The Nature Conservancy in Indiana estimates there are 4.25 million acres of non-prime farmland that can be used to empower farmers to cultivate the sun and wind just like they do soybeans and corn—creating new “crops” for which the Hoosier state can be world-renowned.

What’s more, the state has thousands of acres of degraded land—such as landfills, brownfields or former mine lands—where clean-energy hubs can make use of existing infrastructure while driving economic development and revitalization to communities across the state. Consider that Indiana has more than 86,000 jobs in clean energy—the second-most clean-energy jobs in the Midwest—and that number is sure to rise as more wind and solar projects are initiated. Or that wind energy has created $6.8 billion in capital investments for the state, as well as $23 million in annual tax revenue.

These myriad potential economic benefits are why Hoosier voters across the political spectrum view wind and solar projects positively and want to see an increase in renewable-energy production. More than seven in 10 voters want the state to increase solar-energy production, while three in five voters call for an increase in wind energy. And Hoosiers in counties that are primed for solar and wind development—even those where renewable-energy moratoriums currently exist—support the transition. Sixty-four percent of voters in southern, solar-dominant counties and 55% of voters in northern, wind-dominant counties are favorable to these projects.

It’s clear that Indiana’s window of opportunity is now, but the question is whether we can transition to renewables fast enough—or smart enough—to meet demand. Half of Indiana’s largest employers and all five of the state’s investor-owned utilities have publicly announced carbon-emission reduction targets, but the generation of wind and solar energy in Indiana needs to dramatically pick up speed to meet their goals.

To help build out Indiana’s clean-energy infrastructure quickly and responsibly, The Nature Conservancy in Indiana is engaging with renewable-energy companies, utilities, landowners and policymakers around the state to identify the most promising places in Indiana to quickly develop renewable energy while avoiding impacts to important wildlife and habitats. We estimate there are approximately 300,000 acres that are least likely to pose a conflict with the state’s natural treasures and surrounding communities, and developers should prioritize this land while scouting locations for Indiana’s next big wind or solar investment. Developing renewable energy in these low-risk areas will have tremendous benefits to climate, conservation and communities while avoiding costly project delays and reputational risk.

It will take all of us, working together, to smartly leverage Indiana’s vast renewable resources. As the world’s eyes turn to Dubai for climate leadership on the global stage, the real and hard work of meeting our state’s and nation’s energy needs will take place here at home. Let’s commit to getting renewables right in Indiana so we can power a future where people and nature thrive.•

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Mobley is senior policy associate for climate and clean energy at The Nature Conservancy in Indiana.

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