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Indiana Governor Mike Pence has talked big talk against the Clean Power Plan, but the US Navy has big solar plans of its own for the state.

Clean Power

Conservative Coal Fan Says Solar Is Part Of “Amazing Work” At US Navy Base

Indiana Governor Mike Pence has talked big talk against the Clean Power Plan, but the US Navy has big solar plans of its own for the state.

A new 24 megawatt solar installation is planned for a major US Navy base in Crane, Indiana, and the project is so important that even the state’s conservative Lieutenant Governor, Eric Holcomb, issued an official statement in support. That’s something of a shocker considering his previous put-downs of President Obama’s energy policy, but a closer look at the base reveals why solar is making friends across the aisle.

Duke Navy Solar Indiana

Solar For A Huge US Navy Base…In Indiana?

The new solar installation will take place at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Crane, the third-largest Navy facility in the entire world.

NSA is located in one of the most landlocked states in the entire US, which might appear to be a strange location for a major US Navy facility, but its mission does not require proximity to water. From its beginnings as an ordnance test center in 1941, NSA has become a global hotbed of naval R&D.

NSA’s motto is “Harnessing the Power of Technology for the Warfighter,” which makes solar a natural fit — in more ways than one, as we shall see.

Solar Installation For A Coal State

For those of you familiar with the US Navy’s aggressive pursuit of biofuel and solar energy, another new solar project is, well, just another new solar project. However, this one is particularly newsworthy because it forces a significant positive development for renewable energy in a state that has not been particularly friendly to President Obama’s renewable energy policy.

Last year, for example, Indiana Governor Mike Pence announced that Indiana would not come up with its own carbon reduction strategy under the new federal Clean Power Plan, and he included this little nugget in his 2015 State of the State Address:

Because low-cost energy is vital to our economy, we need an all-of-the-above energy strategy, including energy efficiency. But know this, Indiana is a pro-coal state, and we must continue to oppose the overreaching schemes of the EPA [US Environmental Protection Agency] until we bring this war on coal to an end.

State Attorney General Greg Zoeller added his two cents:

EPA’s rule is an overreach of historic proportions, and this regulation of electrical power generation goes far beyond what Congress authorized the agency to do.

As a candidate for office in 2015, Holcomb’s position on The Clean Power Plan was similarly combative:

…In his unmasked war on coal, President Obama has failed to work through the people’s representatives in Congress…

His agencies have become instruments of command and control into our daily lives…

…The future growth and sustainability of our Hoosier economy depends on coal, and I look forward to proposing Indiana-grown ideas to further develop the natural resources we have…

The Inevitability Of Solar

Fast forward to 2016, and it looks like something has changed.

The new solar project officially got under way back in January, when NSA filed for construction approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

While this would be one of the largest solar installations in the state, the news was met with cricket chirps from the Governor’s office. Duke Energy announced that it would construct the new solar installation on January 7, but its press release did not include a statement of support from anyone in the Indiana government.

However, on April 13, Holcomb himself hosted a major media event at the State Capitol in support of the new NSA solar installation.

The event was attended by key stakeholders including Dennis V. McGinn, assistant secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations & Environment. It looks like coal or no coal, the Navy had a message to send Indiana about the importance of renewable energy to national security.

Still Hedging On Solar

Both Holcomb and Pence are still hedging, but the cracks are beginning to show. Holcomb’s official press release for the event enthused over the new solar project, and the release posted on his official Indiana website includes a statement in support:

Indiana is home to a number of critical defense assets, and we are proud of the amazing work being done at Crane to support American warfighters with the most advanced equipment in the world…

Notice that the statement does not specifically reference solar. That’s not a particularly suspect omission, except when you look at DoD’s version of the press release. It’s nearly identical and it includes the entirety of Holcomb’s Indiana statement, but begins it with this additional key line:

We are honored to welcome Secretary McGinn to Indiana as we express our support for the Duke Energy solar installation at Crane…

Pence evidently prefers to keep his coal friends close, which is probably why he left the official statement to his second-in-command and was a no-show at the April 13 event.

On the other hand, in contrast to last year’s State of the Union tough talk, Pence’s 2016 SOU included nothing at all about energy policy.

In recent media interviews Pence still claims that Indiana is not developing a state-level Clean Power Plan strategy, but according to our friends over at E&E Publishing, his energy policy director has been meeting with stakeholders and prepping for “compliance scenarios.”

We’re guessing that in addition to power generation and distribution companies, those stakeholders include NSA. The base sprawls over four counties and covers almost 100 square miles, and it is a key economic driver in the state. All but around 50 of 5,000 NSA workers are civilian employees.

In addition, renewable energy is a key part of the Defense Department’s climate change and resiliency strategy, and it looks like Indiana is positioned to play an important role in that effort regardless of Pence’s coal-friendly public posture.

According to Duke’s January 7 press release, the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor has partnered with the company on a $1 million research project at the public-private Battery Innovation Center located near NSA Crane, to do this:

…to study how battery storage can maximize renewable power sources, such as rooftop solar panels and small wind turbines, and integrate them into the electric grid.

A key partner in the Innovation Center is a company called Battery Innovation Group. Last month, BIG announced that it has inked a technology transfer deal with  the Navy, enabling use of its battery R&D facilities.

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Image: via Duke Energy.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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