E&E News compares how neighboring states Illinois and Indiana have addressed the growth of renewables, quoting Indiana state lead Caryl Auslander on the findings of a new poll from Advanced Energy United showing support more renewables in Indiana's energy mix and rules to make projects easier to build.
Illinois and Indiana are separated by more than a state line, time zones and which political party dominates state government.
The Midwest neighbors have also taken opposite tacks to enable more renewable energy development.
In Indiana, counties can still restrict wind and solar projects if they choose.
Indiana’s bipartisan law passed in 2022 seeks to encourage counties to enable development by creating a program within the state Office of Energy Development to certify counties as wind and solar “ready,” meaning they have adopted clear standards for siting, building and operating renewable energy projects. Counties must commit to maintaining the standards and compatible zoning regulations for at least a decade.
In addition to certification, a law signed this spring by Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) would authorize incentive funding for counties that get certified. The funding cannot come from the state, however, and no revenue source has been identified.
Compared to Illinois, the Indiana program has broader political backing. Legislation creating the voluntary renewable certification program was written by state Sens. Mark Messmer and Eric Koch, both Republicans.
The effort followed debate a year earlier when a bipartisan bill that would have created an Illinois-style statewide standard in Indiana met a furious backlash in the state Senate from counties that saw the measure as an attack on their right to self-govern.
While the voluntary renewable energy certification program that the General Assembly passed in March 2022 had broad support, the effectiveness of the policy in accelerating deployment of wind and solar projects is a big unknown.
Caryl Auslander, who leads policy work in Indiana for Advanced Energy United, a clean energy group, was disappointed that Indiana lawmakers didn’t fund the renewable ready certification program. In fact, she said, the statute authorizing incentive funding for the program expressly prohibits the use of state funds.
Last month, Advanced Energy United released results of a statewide poll that the group ordered that showed Indiana residents largely support more renewables in the energy mix and rules to make projects easier to build.
In fact, two-thirds of respondents said they support required uniform standards for permitting clean energy projects and just 21 percent were opposed. And a majority indicated they would support using state funds for financial incentives to encourage counties to adopt consistent zoning rules.
The purpose of the poll was to confirm what the group suspected — that opposition to statewide permitting standards for wind and solar, however noisy, represented a minority view, Auslander said. It’s too soon to determine if there will be further legislation introduced to try to establish statewide standards or to provide funding for the existing program.
“We just wanted to do the homework,” she said. “We just wanted to see the data so that we could show to lawmakers, to legislative leaders, and to anybody that cares about this type of issue in the state that there's larger support [for renewables] than it sounds like.”
As Illinois and Indiana work to implement new renewable siting laws, researchers are studying what the collective impact of local zoning regulations means for the ability of the country to meet climate goals.
A recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory study weighed the impact of thousands of local wind and solar energy zoning laws and ordinances across the country, concluding that the strictest setback standards — if applied nationally — would significantly limit wind and solar potential.