GRANGER — Indiana Michigan Power Co. plans to build a $37 million solar farm southeast of Bittersweet Road and the Indiana Toll Road, its largest in Indiana, and it will seek state approval of another rate increase to help pay for it, according to records the utility has filed with regulators.
Fort Wayne-based I&M, a subsidiary of American Electric Power, has petitioned the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to recover the project’s costs through a base rate increase it filed May 14. If the IURC won’t allow that, I&M will try to recoup the costs by increasing monthly bills in another way, through a “solar power rider,” according to I&M’s filings with the IURC.
Last month’s base rate increase request came a year after I&M won approval of a $93 million revenue increase in May 2018, hiking a monthly 1,000-kWh bill from $126 to $141. The utility in September 2017 initially had requested a $263 million increase, which would have increased such a bill to $151.
The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, the state agency that advocates for consumers in regulated utility cases, has started its technical and legal reviews of both new cases but has not yet determined how the proposals would affect monthly bills if approved, said OUCC spokesman Anthony Swinger.
I&M plans to start building the solar farm in May and have it operational by the end of next year. Some homeowners in Prairie Lane subdivision, whose Campfire Drive backyards overlook the Toll Road and the site, expressed mixed views on the project Monday. None said they would mind having the solar panels nearby.
“I think overall it’s fantastic to have renewable energy in the area,” said Mike Manis, who believes carbon emissions are responsible for climate change. “I don’t have a problem at all with the farm being near me. I think it’s a wonderful thing.”
Manis’ neighbor, Bob Olson, said the solar farm shouldn’t make noise or smell, so it shouldn’t bother anyone in the neighborhood, unlike the Toll Road, which he’s still not used to, despite choosing to live there 32 years ago.
“I think they do it for PR reasons,” Olson said. “It’s just like the wind power. It’s been proven that it’s a physical impossibility for it to come out on the positive side (economically). The initial cost, the maintenance and repairs over time, don’t pan out. So the price goes up to cover the boondoggle. That, to me, is irresponsible.”
I&M derives 46.5% of the electricity it generates from coal, 44.1% from nuclear, 8.7% from wind, 0.4% from hydro, and 0.3% from solar. Its four solar plants, in Marion, Mishawaka, New Carlisle and Watervliet, Mich., generate a combined 14.7 megawatts of power.
This new project would generate 20 MW, 40 percent of which would be purchased by the University of Notre Dame. The university has pledged to reduce its campus carbon emissions by 50% per square foot by 2030.
Ashley Partridge, another Campfire Drive resident, said she is not sure that the world’s climate is changing because of carbon emissions, but she supports more development of wind and solar power because it will result in cleaner air than burning coal.
“I guess I’m torn on it,” she said. “I think it would be a good thing but I don’t like the idea of our prices going up.”
But Partridge said she’s OK with paying higher rates until I&M pays off the solar farm’s costs, if it means long-term reductions in coal use.
“If the investment comes back to taxpayers and the people who live around here,” she said, “I think it’s totally worth the investment. I think I would like looking across and seeing that our county and state are putting forth the effort.”
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