By Lesley Weidenbener
INDIANAPOLIS – Hoosiers are using significantly more energy from renewable sources – including biofuels and wind – than they were just 10 years ago, a Purdue University expert told lawmakers Tuesday.
But the total amount of energy coming from those sources in the state remains small and less than the national average.
In 2002, less than 2 percent of the state’s energy use came from renewable resources. By 2012 – the last year for which objective statistics are available – the rate increased to more than 5 percent, said Doug Gotham, director of the State Utility Forecasting Group, which is housed at Purdue.
Nationally, more than 9 percent of energy comes from renewable sources.
“The major barrier to further growth in renewable energy continues to be the cost,” Gotham told the legislative Study Committee on Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications. “Most renewable energies have high capital costs.”
But, he said, the longer-term costs of most of those renewable sources are much lower.
The numbers include fuel consumption for vehicles as well as for power and heating. In Indiana, biofuels – including ethanol – the state’s use of renewable energy.
But wind now provides the largest share of renewable electric generation in the state. “We now have 3.5 percent of our electricity from wind,” Gotham said. “Historically, it’s only been 0.5 percent. In time we’ll start to see (solar) grow as well.”
In late 2012, developers installed 72 megawatts of solar photovoltaic equipment in Indiana, which has increased renewable energy use in the state. But that won’t show up in the data until the 2013 numbers are released, Gotham said.
The numbers were part of the State Utility Forecasting Group’s annual report to the legislative committee. The report shows that wind energy began growing in 2007, when several wind farms were installed in northern Indiana.
But the growth in wind has slowed down nationally and in Indiana, where only one wind farm has been commissioned in the last three years.
“The factors that have resulted in the substantial slowing down of wind energy capacity expansion include the reduced availability of capital after the 2008 global financial crisis and the reduced competitiveness of wind in the face of abundant low cost natural gas as a result of the hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling technological breakthroughs in the oil and gas extraction industry,” the report said.
Gotham said Indiana is not as well positioned as some states to take advantage of solar, wind and hydroelectricity – at least not at the low power rates Hoosiers have generally enjoyed.
“It depends on what you’re willing to pay,” Gotham said. “Germany has worse solar resources but they have 30 percent of electricity coming from solar. But their electricity rates are three times as high.”
Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.