By Kyla Russell, National Newspaper Association Foundation News Fellows Program
Great Lakes Now is publishing this story in conjunction with the National Newspaper Association Foundation’s News Fellows Program. In March, during NNA’s Community Newspaper Leadership Summit, a group of student journalists met with experts and policy leaders in Washington D.C. to discuss the topic of climate change. The students then further reported and wrote articles like this one for publication in state press association member media outlets. Great Lakes Now is a Michigan Press Association member.
The 2021 legislative season brought proposed changes to Indiana’s approach to wind energy, a necessity for powering Hoosier homes. But the plans did not come without obstacles.
Last year, House Bill 138 was proposed and failed. That bill hoped to make wind energy standards mandatory for all counties in Indiana.
In response to the proposed legislation, small groups across the state organized and banded together, united by their mission to fight the erection of turbines. Members shared their concerns through social media.
“Unlike a typical contract, wind farm agreements focus on the landowner surrendering all rights it may have in relation to noise abatement in exchange for money, which may or may not be indexed to inflation,” Viva-Lyn Lenehan, member of the No Wind Farm Montgomery County, said.
Additionally, several members of Lenehan’s group voiced concerns over high energy prices due to an overreliance on what they called a fickle renewable energy grid. They pointed to Europe as an example of this possible misstep.
Beliefs like this are not uncommon, and many worry about the feasibility of a fully renewable future.
But claims about renewable energy weakening a grid are entirely unfounded. And while Europe is buckling under high energy prices, Politico reported that the return to pre-pandemic demand is causing the spike, not renewables.
Still, the concern over an aging grid is valid, especially as the U.S. ramps up its production of electric vehicles demanding high-speed charge. David Shepherdson, a transportation reporter for Reuters who spent years covering auto in Detroit, said in a virtual interview that electricity demand will become a greater problem in the coming years.
Lawmakers opted for a different legislative route this year.
In March, the Indiana General Assembly passed Senate Bill 411, a voluntary renewable resource program for counties in Indiana.
The new legislation omitted the mandatory nature of the earlier bill and the monetary incentive. The legislation now allows counties to adopt regulations that will qualify them as solar and wind ready communities if they so choose.
The bill established a center within the Indiana Economic Development Corporation that will facilitate counties volunteering to participate in the program.
The key to its passing: compromise.
According to Sen. Mark Messmer, Republican majority floor leader and chair of the environmental affairs committee, if a county is uninterested in adopting the standards for wind energy laid out in the bill, they are not required to. As of now, there is not an official total on which counties in the state have chosen to opt in and adhere to these standards.
The passing of this bill signifies a shift in the state’s tone toward this energy option, especially considering that wind energy accounts for a significent portion of Indiana’s renewable energy.
Over 75% of Indiana’s renewable power comes from wind turbines, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It has the twelfth-highest wind energy capacity in the U.S.
Indiana is also a top biofuel producer, making use of its enormous corn and soybean production. According to the Department of Energy, ethanol qualifies as renewable and does burn considerably cleaner than gasoline, although its carbon emissions are not zero.
Over the past decade of renewable projects, wind has been the logical first choice in Indiana for several reasons: the state is mostly flat, which is ideal for wind but also limits the damming opportunities for hydroelectric power.
Effects from the use of this renewable option are evident in state job rates too.
“In the process of construction and manufacturing components in the renewable wind energy sector, there are probably tens of thousands of renewable job opportunities,” Messmer said.
In 2018, the Environmental Law and Policy Center estimated that the number of people in Indiana serving as wind turbine service technicians will grow by 96.1% by 2026.
“The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates some of the fastest growing occupations in the next decade are energy related, including wind turbine technicians,” Julie Kempf, policy analyst at Indiana’s office of energy development, said. “The U.S. Energy Jobs Indiana report provides information across all energy jobs. It provides a broader context of how wind fits into all energy technologies, electricity generation and workforce sectors. The supplemental Wage Report shows that across the U.S., the median hourly wage for all energy workers is $25.60, higher than the national median hourly wage of $19.14 across all sectors.”
Who will be working these renewable jobs in the near future?
Most likely young Hoosiers.
According to Messmer, teenagers and college-aged students across the state have accelerated the pressure for more implementation of this energy, due to its employment opportunities.
“The younger the age group the more interest there is in (wind energy),” Messmer said.
Amelia Bostick, student at Taylor University and cabinet member for the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action is playing a role in generating newfound interest among her generation.
“As young people we have the opportunity to create a more knowledgeable future and recognize the issues that future generations are going to feel the direct impact of,” Bostick said.
“By leading the charge for wind energy, we are saying that we care for the young people of the future enough to ensure that we are using energy in a way that will sustain a life for them, while also investing in our own through employment opportunities.”
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Featured image: Local groups around Indiana have protested the construction of wind turbines, but Indiana’s younger population is campaigning for shifting sentiments. (Photo courtesy of No Wind Montgomery County)