Linden leading with new solar spot

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — One by one, 240 solar panels are going up in Linden, each one moving the state into the future of energy. Once complete, the Tipmont REMC project will be the state’s first community solar program, further diversifying an Indiana energy portfolio dominated by coal.

Community solar projects allow residents who don’t want to keep solar panels on their property a way to participate in a renewable energy source, as Tipmont keeps all of the panels at its Linden offices.

“We need to provide some renewable sources,” said Jason Monroe, energy management supervisor at Tipmont. “Not everybody wants their typical energy. You see that with people installing their own solar arrays.”

In this community solar program, a customer buys the rights to a panel for 25 years at $1,250. Tipmont installs, operates and maintains it on its property and sends the energy from that panel to everyone on its grid. Then each customer who buys a panel receives a credit each month for how much solar energy their panel provided.

The project comes at a time when electricity rates are expected to rise in Indiana, according to Purdue’s utility forecasting group. Its report in December predicted a 32 percent rise in electricity rates during the next 10 years. Today, around 90 percent of Indiana’s electricity comes from coal.

Tipmont says buying solar power today is beneficial to customers, because they can lock in today’s solar electricity rates for the next 25 years.

“As rates go up, or may go up over time, the value of that [solar] power they are receiving could also go up,” said Tipmont Communications Coordinator Sasha Clements.

What has hindered solar power development — not only in Indiana, but across the nation — is high upfront cost. Monroe said the average monthly credit on an electric bill will be $5. According to Clements, that means the panel will pay for itself in about 16 years.

Though solar power is still more expensive than more traditional ways of generating electricity, the price to install it has fallen 37 percent since 2010, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. So while solar power’s 100 Megawatts in Indiana is just a fraction of the state’s energy needs, Monroe said the state is likely to see more solar projects if the price continues to fall.

“It feels great to be a leader in the space and I think that this is just the first of many,” Monroe said.

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