MERRILLVILLE | NIPSCO has reached an agreement with consumer and environmental groups that may greatly expand the use of homegrown renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, biomass and hydropower in northern Indiana.
In a settlement filed Monday with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, NIPSCO is agreeing to buy power from renewable electric projects of up to 5 megawatts under a "feed-in" tariff.
Five megawatts is the amount of power produced by two very large, industrial-strength wind turbines. That would be enough electricity to power from 1,200 to 1,500 homes, according to the Wind Energy Development Program of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
That would be a giant leap forward from NIPSCO's current net metering program, under which the utility gives customers bill credits for renewable energy sources with up to 10 kilowatts of capacity. That program would be expanded to projects of up to 1 megawatt of capacity under the proposed settlement.
"This settlement represents a collaborative effort aimed at promoting further renewable generation opportunities in northern Indiana and responding to our customers' interest in powering their homes and businesses with such projects," said Jimmy Staton, NIPSCO CEO.
The utility already has had interest expressed by a solar project proposed by Powers Energy for Schneider and from Bio Town Ag, in Reynolds, Ind.
Environmental groups who worked for months with the utility on coming to a settlement applauded the move.
"We are very pleased with the outcome, and we want to applaud NIPSCO for working so closely with the proponents of renewable energy," said Laura Arnold, president of Indiana Distributed Energy advocates.
"We feel that this will put Indiana on the map as a model for distributed renewable generation in the Midwest while also creating good jobs in the renewable power sector," said Steve Francis, state chairman of the Hoosier chapter of the Sierra Club.
Other groups that were party to the settlement include the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, the Citizens Action Coalition and Bio Town Ag.
The settlement filed Monday now will be considered by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, which can approve it as is, amend it or reject it. If approved, the feed-in tariff and expanded net metering program would not be available until later this year.
Because the feed-in tariff would result in NIPSCO actually buying power from renewable energy producers, it offers the opportunity for commercial-size renewable energy projects to be financially viable within NIPSCO territory.
The feed-in tariff combined with the expansion of the net metering program also opens up greatly expanded opportunities for renewable energy projects at homes and small businesses.
The feed-in tariff and the net metering programs would be limited to 30 megawatts total, which equates to about 2 percent of NIPSCO's peak summer demand.