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Lake County Solar Farm Proposal in NIPSCO-land August 23, 2010

Posted by Laura Arnold in Feed-in Tariffs (FiT), Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), Uncategorized.
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Stories have been breaking last week in NW Indiana concerning proposed renewable energy projects in NW Indiana presumably in response to the recent Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) filing that includes a proposed new feed-in tariff. The following stories appeared in the NW Indiana Times.

August 18, 2010
BY DIANE KRIEGER SPIVAK , (219) 648-3076
SCHNEIDER — The developers of the planned garbage-to-ethanol plant in South Lake County will build one of the country’s largest solar energy facilities adjacent to the property. The $75 million, 137,000-panel solar power plant could break ground in as soon as 45 days, said Earl Powers, president of Powers Energy of America, which is developing the ethanol plant.

 Phase I construction, a 22,000-panel 5 megawatt facility, will take just 60 to 90 days.

 Evansville-based Powers Energy is working to finalize an agreement with SunDurance Energy, of Edison, N.J., to act as the “engineering, procurement and construction contractor” on the project, a SunDurance spokesperson said Tuesday.

 SunDurance is a division of The Conti Group, a 104-year-old national infrastructure, engineering and construction development company whose clients include Bristol-Myers Squibb, Citgo, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, Lockheed, Merck and Westinghouse.

 “We have a commitment for financing,” Powers Energy President Earl Powers told the Post-Tribune. “Right now we’re working on several things we need to do to make it a reality.”

 Powers Energy Engineer Ken Bosar said signed paperwork was expected to be completed by this week or next week for the solar plant, and by the end of the month for Powers Energy’s planned $254 million garbage-to-ethanol plant at the same site on the north end of Schneider.

 Both projects are being bankrolled by the same entities, none of which are in the state of Indiana, Earl Powers said.

 Officials involved in the projects declined to disclose the names of the financial backers because of confidentiality agreements.

 The Lake County Solid Waste Management District has no financial interest in the solar plant, District chief Jeff Langbehn said.

 But because the District has a 20-year renewable contract with Powers to deliver Lake County municipal waste to the bioethanol plant for conversion into ethanol, district officials have joined Powers, SunDurance and Conti in talks with state officials within the last month regarding the solar plant.

 “If we get the green light, we’ll have an executive board meeting,” Langbehn said.

 Powers said the solar power plant is a separate project from the solar panels he plans to install on top of his bioethanol plant’s 23-acre processing building, although the electricity produced by both will be sold to power companies.

 “It’s a tough community out there for financing,” Powers said. “We’re fortunate to have a commitment.”

Will need 100 acres for solar 

Powers said he has already met with Northwest Indiana’s trade unions who will provide construction labor for the project. “They’re helping us get some items we need for closing on the financing,” Powers said.

 Powers Energy is in negotiations with landowners to buy or lease about 100 acres initially for the solar plant and up to 500 acres when it is completed, Bosar said.

 The solar plant will begin as a 5 megawatt facility because of current energy regulations, and will expand yearly to a maximum of about 100 megawatts within five years, Bosar said.

 Once the solar plant can grow beyond 5 megawatts Powers will look to the not-for-profit regional transmission organization Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (Midwest ISO) which will conduct a detailed transmission study that takes about 225 days.

 The largest operating solar plant in the United States is a 25-megawatt facility in Florida. Several other plants are in the process of expanding, but with no plans larger than 80 megawatts.

 Earlier this month Oakland, Calif.-based Brightsource Energy Inc. announced plans to build the world’s largest thermal solar energy project, the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (ISEGS), consisting of three plants combined into a 392-megawatt solar electric generating system in the Mojave Desert.

 Powers purchased land within and adjacent to Schneider late last year and had the property annexed to locate the bioethanol plant that is planned to eventually process 10,000 tons of Lake County municipal waste per day into ethanol.

 “We may be able to break ground this year on the bioethanol plant,” Powers said.

 The bioethanol facility would produce 350 to 400 construction jobs. Permanent jobs will increase from 120 initially to 360 as phases are added. The bioethanol plant will operate 24-7, Powers said. The solar plant will involve minimal installation and maintenance, he added.

 Powers Energy must still obtain a number of environmental permits before it can proceed with construction of the bioethanol plant.

 Powers is waiting for permitting to be issued for the New Planet BioEnergy bioethanol plant in Florida so Powers can use that application permit as a blueprint to apply to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for its own permits.

 The Indian River, Fla. plant is being constructed by INEOS Bio, a British chemical company from which Powers purchased the rights to use its patented technology for garbage-to-ethanol conversion.

Evansville-based businessman Earl Powers plans to add solar to what’s becoming a kind of proposed alternative-energy campus in Schneider, county and energy officials said Wednesday.

Lake County Solid Waste Management District Executive Director Jeff Langbehn confirmed Powers wants to build a 137,000-panel, $75 million solar farm adjoining Powers’ proposed trash-to-ethanol site.

Powers told him construction could begin within 90 days, and the site could be the largest solar farm of its kind in the United States.

A spokeswoman for SunDurance Energy of New Jersey, Powers’ reported partner in the farm, did not respond to Times’ questions about the proposal Wednesday.

Neither Powers, nor Powers Energy chief engineer Ken Bosar, responded to Times requests for more information.

Schneider Councilman Richard Wright said town officials had been in talks with Powers within the last year about constructing the solar farm. Wright said he was not sure of the month the town approved the solar farm.

Wright said he did not know exactly where the farm would be located, but that it could sit at least partially on the same lot as the ethanol plant.

“They’ve got the land they’re going to start with. They’ve got enough to start with the first phase,” Wright said. “I think they’re ready to go.”

Solid waste officials signed a contract with Powers in November 2008 to build a multimillion-dollar plant that would convert county municipal waste to ethanol.

Langbehn could not confirm what side of the ethanol site, which is bordered on the western side by U.S. 41 in Schneider, would be contiguous with the proposed solar farm.

Indiana Department of Environmental Management spokeswoman Amy Hartsock said the farm shouldn’t need air or land permits.

The project likely would require a notice of intent regarding its construction to IDEM, which Hartsock said has not yet been filed.

Langbehn said he supports the solar farm plan, adding the waste district will have no direct tie to it because it is outside the realm of trash disposal.

West Creek Township Trustee Rick Niemeyer said Wednesday he has heard chatter about the solar farm for the last two weeks among Schneider-area landowners who have been approached about the project.

Niemeyer said he has not been briefed on the subject and hasn’t taken an active interest because, “It’s just too soon.”

Eric Burch, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Energy Development, said he did not believe his office has been involved in the proposed farm.

“I can safely say there are no other commercial solar ‘farms’ in Indiana, as most of the state would not be prime location for such a facility,” Burch said. “Southern Indiana is the exception.”

NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer said Powers Energy officials approached the utility a few months ago about selling the firm’s planned solar energy.

Meyer said NIPSCO has had preliminary talks about Powers qualifying for the utility’s proposed feed-in tariff program.

The program — seeking Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission approval — would pay a rate to customers producing alternative energy on a large scale, as the Powers farm proposes.

Powers likely would have to seek additional buyers in the market, as NIPSCO’s total program would be capped at 30 megawatts, Meyer said.

Powers’ proposed farm would generate up to 100 megawatts of power, with 5 megawatts within initial operations.

“We want to be able to offer it to other customers, as well,” Meyer said.

About 36 megawatts could power roughly 10,000 average Indiana households for a year, Meyer said.

A spokeswoman for Kankakee Valley REMC, which provides power for southern portions of the region, said her company was not aware of Powers’ proposed farm.

Langbehn said the idea for the farm came from talks Powers had with the company that would place solar panels on the roof of the ethanol facility.

Times staff writer Bill Dolan contributed to this report.

A controversial contract clause placing ownership of a planned trash-to-ethanol facility in the hands of Lake County taxpayers could be resolved by the end of next month, county officials said.

At a board meeting Thursday, Lake County Solid Waste Management District officials said the Indianapolis-based law firm Barnes & Thornburg planned to make a presentation to district board members regarding the county-ownership clause as early as mid-September.

Elected officials of at least three Lake County municipalities have said they fear the clause could open taxpayers to liability for any mishaps or financial snags that could occur at the plant. The plant has not been built yet and would rely on technology not yet proven on a commercial scale. It aims to convert the county’s trash into ethanol, an alternative fuel similar to gasoline.

The waste management district approved a contract with Powers Energy One of Indiana LLC in 2008 for the private company to build and operate the facility with private funds and a private work force. The contract, however, places actual ownership of the plant in the hands of the district.

Powers, whose business now is called Powers Energy of America, and the district now hope that municipalities in the county individually will sign an interolocal agreement that would route trash to the facility for the next 20 years. But municipal officials in Griffith, Crown Point and Merrillville have balked at the agreement, with some saying their communities won’t consider signing on to any plan that includes taxpayer ownership.

Waste management district officials have said a hold-harmless clause in the contract would protect the county, placing all liability on Powers. However, a contract attorney contacted by The Times has said the clause may not protect the county from all liability.

Powers Energy officials earlier this year offered to remove the county ownership clause from the contract to assuage any concerns. Because of the controversy, the waste management district asked Barnes & Thornburg to review all possible ownership scenarios and any legal ramifications.

Waste management district attorney Clifford Duggan said that opinion should be ready for board review before the September board meeting.

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