Since the Northern Indiana Public Service Company launched its Feed-in-tariff pilot program last year, solar power installations in the area have skyrocketed.
Nick Meyer, spokesman for NIPSCO, said that a new project proposed by Lincoln Solar to install 6,800 solar panels in Merrillville, Ind., is just the latest in a string of proposed projects.
While retail power rates are around 11 cents per kilowatt hour in the NIPSCO area, the utility pays out 26 cents per kilowatt hour for projects between 10 kilowatts and 2 megawatts and 30 cents per kilowatt hour for solar projects up to 10 kilowatts, Meyer said.
“We’re quickly approaching our cap of 30 megawatts,” Meyer said. “We set this as a three-year pilot, and we’re still in our first year.”
The utility signs 15-year, power-purchase agreements, agreeing to pay the exaggerated rate to customers who install solar arrays and tie them to the grid. The program is open to the smallest homeowner on up the line to major solar developers with projects up to 2 megawatts.
“All of our customers are eligible, but it’s geared a little more toward the business customer,” Meyer said.
Interest has been high and the utility has processed numerous applications.
“We’ve had about 1 megawatt come online so far,” Meyer said. “It’s relatively small what’s actually come online so far.”
He said that renewable energy and especially solar projects were gaining momentum and popularity even before the utility implemented its feed-in-tariff structure.
“Certainly, we’ve seen more action on the FIT than we saw when we expanded our net-metering program,” Meyer said.
The latest solar project is still awaiting approval from the Merrillville City Council, but will add 1 megawatt of solar power to the NIPSCO grid as long as council members determine that the new array won’t cause any disturbances to residents.
“This fits with our overall sustainability approach,” Meyer said of NIPSCO. “We realize that we can’t be reliant on any one fuel for power generation.”
He said the utility prioritized diversifying its power generation fuels two years ago when it created its new integrated resource plan and decided to add the feed-in-tariff.
Image courtesy of IndyStar.