Indiana's coal-fired power plants, which produce 95 percent of the state’s electricity, are some of the dirtiest in the nation. Nearly half the coal Indiana uses is imported from out of state.[1],[2] But Indiana can turn this bleak picture around by playing to its strengths -- harvesting energy resources from its nearly 15 million acres of farmland, 3.6 million hogs and pigs, and 850,000 cattle and dairy cows.[3]

With a nascent ethanol industry, a fast-growing wind industry and a handful of farm-based biodigesters already producing biogas, Indiana is in a good position to ramp up its local energy production. The state’s challenge will be to move away from corn ethanol, which requires vast amounts of water, land, and energy, to more advanced cellulosic ethanol.

The renewables map shows current and future Indiana facilities generating energy from wind, biomass, solar power and biogas.

Wind Energy

wind turbine

Credit: Nordex SE

The total power output of Indiana's current wind farms is enough to power more than 300,000 households

Indiana is the third-fastest growing state in wind energy capacity, ranking 11th in the nation. Between 2009 and 2010, the state increased its wind capacity 10-fold.[4]

The state's first utility-scale wind farm, Goodland I in Benton County, opened in 2008, producing 130 megawatts of electricity. Today, Indiana boasts 1,300 megawatts of wind power, generating enough energy to provide electricity for 300,000 homes. And there’s an additional 8,000 megawatts more wind power in the works.[5]

The local economy is getting a lift from wind energy as well. In 2009, the wind industry supported 3,000 to 4,000 jobs in Indiana. At least 14 facilities in the state manufacture components for the wind industry. Gearbox manufacturer Brevini recently opened a plant in Muncie, despite the economic downturn, and expects to employ 200 people there by 2012, with an ultimate goal of 450 jobs at the facility.[6]

Biomass Energy and Cellulosic Ethanol


Indiana could produce more than 600 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol each year from corn harvest leftovers

More than one-third of Indiana's 15 million acres of farmland are devoted to growing corn.[7] Much of this corn feeds Indiana's 13 corn ethanol plants, which churn out more than 1 billion gallons of ethanol each year.[8]

But corn ethanol has some serious drawbacks, including the fact that producing it is tremendously resource- and energy-intensive. The best biofuels are those that protect the environment and food supplies while improving the economic welfare of workers and communities. Cellulosic ethanol, which is made from crop waste (such as corn stover, the stalks and other bits left over after harvest) and non-food crops, is the biofuel of the future. It can produce four to ten times as much energy as corn ethanol without swallowing up huge tracts of food-growing farmland or forests.[9]

Indiana could collect nearly 6.7 million dry tons of corn stover each year, which could be used to produce about 600 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol.[10] A geographic systems analysis performed by Purdue University shows that several of Indiana's coal-fired power plants are surrounded by excellent cellulosic biomass feedstocks such as corn stover, switchgrass and sustainably harvested forest wood.[11]

Solar Energy

solar panel installation

Indiana has moderately good potential for solar energy development, particularly in the southern part of the state, which sees more than 4.5 direct sun hours per day throughout the year. With its short investment payback period of less than a decade, solar hot water heating is a particularly promising technology for Indiana residents and businesses.[12] Indiana’s Solar Thermal Grant program, administered by the Office of Energy Development, has helped fund more than a dozen solar projects in the state, including a solar water heating system at Bloomington’s Upland Brewery.[13] The 600 gallon system produces enough hot water for the brewery’s normal kitchen use as well as preheating water for their brewing process, prompting the company to rebrand their signature brew as Helios Pale Ale.

McCormick Motors in Napanee also received state funding to install more than 30 kilowatts of solar power at their dealership. The company plans to install a full 60-kilowatt solar array as part of their renewable energy generation plan.

Biogas Energy


Indiana's hog farms could generate almost 300,000 megawatt-hours of energy each year and slash annual methane emissions by 31,000 tons by turning manure into energy

With only a handful of biodigesters in operation, Indiana is already the 8th-largest biogas producer in the country. As of 2010, Indiana had six manure digesters producing 20,345 megawatt-hours of energy from livestock waste.[14]

As one of the nation's five largest swine-farming states, Indiana could convert even more of its copious livestock waste into energy. The EPA's AgSTAR program estimates that 296 swine farms in Indiana are potentially profitable sites for biodigesters. By generating a total of 296,000 megawatt-hours of energy each year, these operations could slash Indiana's annual methane emissions by 31,000 tons.[15]

Renewable Energy Meets Wildland and Wildlife Conservation

Certain sensitive lands -- such as parks, monuments and wildlife conservation areas -- and ecologically sensitive marine areas are not appropriate for energy development. In some of these places, energy development is prohibited or limited by law or policy, and in others it would be highly controversial. NRDC does not endorse locating energy facilities or transmission lines in such areas. Siting decisions must always be made extremely carefully, with impacts mitigated and operations conducted in an environmentally responsible manner.

For more information on the intersection between clean energy development and wildland and wildlife conservation in the American West, including locations of parks, wildlife refuges and other conservation areas, see this Google Earth-based feature.


Economic Incentives for Renewable Energy Projects in Indiana

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency lists federal, state and local government incentives for renewable energy projects in Indiana.

The current Farm Bill offers a number of incentives for renewable energy. The Environmental Law and Policy Center maintains a helpful website called Farm Energy that outlines the current incentives and monitors the development of new ones.

Purdue University Extension Services offers a Renewable Energy assistance website geared primarily toward applications for farmers and small businesses.

Wind Energy

The Department of Energy's Wind Powering America site provides a helpful summary of wind power activities and resources in Indiana, including a wind working group, anemometer loan program, wind maps, a small wind energy consumer's guide and state workshops.

You can find a listing of wind energy businesses in Indiana here.

Biomass Energy and Cellulosic Ethanol

Indiana has a number of incentives for the use of alternative fuels, the purchase of an alternative-fuel vehicle and the construction or purchase of an alternative-fuel refueling station or equipment. See the Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center at the U.S. Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Reynolds, Indiana, aims to be the first BioTown, USA -- a city that can meet all its energy needs through renewable sources, particularly agricultural products. The town's BioTown, USA, Sourcebook on Biomass Energy explains how they're doing it.

You can find a listing of biomass energy businesses in Indiana here.

Indiana has more than 150 biofuel pumps. Find out where you can fill up.

Biogas Energy

The EPA's AgSTAR program has a handbook on developing biogas technology. The site includes FarmWare, a free decision-making software package that can help you assess the feasibility of biogas on your farm.

The Northwest CHP (Combined Heat and Power) Application Center has a fact sheet that helps you ask all the right questions about installing a biodigester on your farm.

The BioTown, USA project in Reynolds, Indiana, is using biogas to meet its energy needs.

Solar Energy

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission offers net metering to customers who generate their own electricity. If you install a solar-energy system on your property and connect it to the local electric grid, net metering allows you to send any excess power to the surrounding community -- causing your meter to run backward and your bill to shrink accordingly.

A state easement provision allows property owners to create easements to maintain their access to sunlight.

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