Construction is well underway on two new Crawfordsville solar parks with plans for two others already in the works. And soon Crawfordsville will be considered the solar capital of the state.
“We could probably be called solar city,” said Phil Goode, general manager of Crawfordsville Electric Light & Power and chairman of the Indiana Municipal Power Agency, which consists of 61 communities, including Crawfordsville.
Goode is the one behind the initiative for local solar power production.
“For the last year and a half, we’ve told the IMPA commissioners at board meetings that we wanted to pick up the pace on solar,” Goode said. “The difficult part is the properties. So we sent these commissioners back home to help us find properties. Being chairman, I wanted to make sure I did my due diligence with our folks.”
IMPA’s first solar park in Crawfordsville went online in September 2015 with a 3-megawatt facility north of Pleasant Meadows. The single park alone contributed to a roughly 10 percent rate deduction over the last three years for CEL&P customers.
“We’re moving with this because we haven’t had to raise rates,” Goode said. “We’d be a little bit more concerned if we were doing this and raising rates. I think we’re going to be forced into all renewables one of these days, so we might as well take the stand and do it our own way so we don’t have to raise rates.”
Work on IMPA’s two latest solar parks began this spring. More than 24,000 panels have already been installed on 45 acres near the Montgomery County Jail along Memorial Drive. The 7.93-megawatt park is expected to go online in November. A second park with a capacity of 4.73 megawatts is expected to go online in December. The park’s 16,200 panels can been seen along Concord Road and on both sides of Interstate-74.
“It’s almost like home construction,” Goode said. “The frame of the house goes up so quickly, but then it takes months to finish the 4,000-feet of wiring, control boxes, inverters and transformers. Driving the steel and mounting the panels goes pretty quick.”
Construction will begin in October on a 2.5-megawatt park on 17 acres west of Crawford Industries. The project should be completed by May 2020. IMPA’s largest park to date, a $15 million project at C.R. 150S and C.R. 250E, will break ground next year. The 9.9-megawatt facility will be the largest in the state, along with Anderson’s 9.9-megawatt park that’s currently under construction.
Crawfordsville’s five solar parks combined will produce 28.06 megawatts of energy — more than any other community in Indiana. It’s enough energy production that, during the day on weekends when industries run less and many businesses are closed, Crawfordsville’s parks could produce 65 percent of the city’s energy, Goode said. Anderson will produce the second-most in the state by 2021 with 22.9 megawatts.
The solar energy that’s produced here stays here, too. The recently installed panels also have a lifespan of at least 40 years.
“We purchased the best panels on the market,” Goode said. “That should be important to the customer in this volatile environment where we don’t know where natural gas is going to go, how soon we’re going to have to retire some of our old coal plants around the country, and wind being such a hot-button topic. By having this local energy provided at a stable cost, we can see the future over a 40-year period.”
Montgomery County has been ideal for solar park development. In addition to the five Crawfordsville solar parks, a 250-kilowatt park in Waynetown went online in 2016. And work on a 2-megawatt park serving Darlington will be completed this fall.
“Land procurement has been the toughest thing,” Goode said. “If you go to these larger communities or communities close to Indianapolis, the price of property goes up so much that it’s not feasible for us to put in solar. That’s why I really appreciate the city and county helping me find property that can’t be used (for other development), but that we can use for solar.”