WHITE COUNTY - The partners behind two wind farms currently in the works in White County say the location makes it easy for development. Merrillville-based NIPSCO announced in October a collaboration with EDP Renewables North America LLC in Texas, to develop the 302-megawatt Indiana Crossroads Wind Farm. The news came just eight months after the partners detailed plans for the Rosewater Wind Farm, also in White County.

EDP Renewables already has a presence in the northwest Indiana county with its Meadow Lake wind farm, which also covers portions of Benton County.  In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, EDP Renewables Executive Vice President Ryan Brown said that history makes White County a perfect spot for the new wind farms.

"First and foremost, the land owners and the county, the local government, really the whole community is very receptive and open to our investments and have been great partners to work with," said Brown. "The wind resource is very strong in White County; we have good access to high voltage transmission lines. The land use is primarily agriculture and so it's a good land use for wind development to coincide with agriculture where people could continue to farm their farm fields just like they did before our wind farms; just now they have a steady revenue stream from the wind farms in lease payments."

Brown says the combination of those key ingredients makes a successful wind farm anywhere in the country, but especially in White County. He adds changes in the wind industry are also playing a factor in the development of new wind farms.

"Since 2010, the levelized cost of wind energy - the cost to produce an electron - has dropped almost 70%. In addition to that, it's become much more of a significant part of the electricity mix in the state. So it's really gone from 0% of the electricity mix to, I think, about 6% in 2018 and I think we'll end (2019) at 7% or 8% percent of the mix and that's growing very, very quickly due to the low cost of the technology."

Tara McElmurry, communications lead for NIPSCO, says the utility issued a Request for Proposals in late 2018, inviting developers to bring ideas for different forms of electric generation. She says the responses led to a surprising realization that renewable, cleaner sources of energy proved to be the most cost effective for customers.

"When we did the Request for Proposals, we had never done it like that before as opposed to looking at forecasts or projections," said McElmurry. "We were able to look at real numbers and it was quite surprising to see how cost effective cleaner energy resources have become in the past couple years. It's projected, in the long term, to save our customers $4 billion as we make the shift towards cleaner energy resources."

The 102-megawatt Rosewater wind farm project, which will have 25 turbines, recently received approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and White County, allowing NIPSCO to begin construction ahead of an anticipated beginning of operations in 2020. Pending similar approvals, NIPSCO and EDP Renewables expect the Indiana Crossroads project to be complete in 2021.

While specific investment figures are not being disclosed for either the Rosewater or Indiana Crossroads projects, a NIPSCO spokesperson told Inside INdiana Business projects of similar size have a typical capital investment between $400 - $600 million. McElmurry says the projects will have added benefits for the region.

"Bringing cleaner energy to northern Indiana will also help attract businesses, strengthen the economy, (and) also give new opportunities for jobs. So our goals are, again, keep costs down, make this the most cost-effective transition for our customers and also make this the least disruptive transition for our employees that are impacted by this change."

The two White County projects are not the only wind farms in development for NIPSCO. When it announced the Rosewater project, the utility said it was partnering with NextEra Energy Resources LLC on the 400-megawatt Jordan Creek wind farm in Benton and Warren counties. NIPSCO is also partnering with Apex Clean Energy on the 300-megawatt Roaming Bison wind farm in Montgomery County.

McElmurry says NIPSCO closed its second Request for Proposals in November and the utility expects some solar projects to come through from that.