Hoosier Energy: Powering Possibilities

Indiana cooperatives are out in front of electrification opportunities.

Sponsored by Hoosier Energy
By Mary Lynn Beaver
From the September/October 2022 Issue

The electric utility industry is undergoing a fundamental change in how the power network is used. Increased efficiency, new technologies and a changing fuel mix are making electricity a better, cleaner option for powering homes, farms and businesses. Increasingly, there are opportunities to use electricity from sustainable sources to power commercial and industrial operations that would otherwise burn fuels such as gasoline, diesel, fuel oil or propane.

In Indiana, several beneficial electrification strategies are underway to create a less-carbon intensive grid while offering economic development opportunities for businesses and industries that value where their energy comes from. This responsible evolution into the use of electric technologies from sustainable sources is gaining momentum, led by the state’s electric cooperatives.

Electrify Indiana
Electric school bus on display at the Electrify Indiana Conference in September 2022. (Photo: Chris Johnson, Hoosier Energy)

Last month, Hoosier Energy and Wabash Valley Power Alliance (WVPA), Indiana’s two generation and transmission cooperatives, hosted the Electrify Indiana 2022 conference in downtown Indianapolis in partnership with the Beneficial Electrification League, a nonprofit organization supported by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Electric cooperatives, investor-owned utilities as well as environmental and consumer advocates, policymakers and manufacturers participated in the conference. The event highlighted beneficial electrification efforts underway throughout the state and the specific economic advantages of those efforts for businesses and industries.

Key topics included education about beneficial electrification, emerging electrification technologies and available funding opportunities, and in-depth discussions on Indiana’s economic, public policy, workforce, infrastructure and transportation future.

“Indiana’s electric cooperatives have been working on beneficial electrification opportunities for quite some time,” said Blake Kleaving, Co-organizer of Electrify Indiana 2022 and Manager of Member Solutions for Hoosier Energy. “Their knowledge and expertise in laying the groundwork has opened up the possibilities for Indiana to be a leader in the clean energy transition.”

The idea for bringing together industry and state leaders to discuss the benefits of electrification technologies took hold in 2019 when Hoosier Energy and WVPA teamed up with the Beneficial Electrification League to host the first Electrify Indiana conference. The pandemic prevented planned conferences for 2020 and 2021. But that didn’t mean the state’s generation and transmission cooperatives (G&Ts) and their members were sitting idly by.

“Indiana’s electric cooperatives have been working on beneficial electrification opportunities for quite some time. Their knowledge and expertise in laying the groundwork has opened up the possibilities for Indiana to be a leader in the clean energy transition.”

– Blake Kleaving, Electrify Indiana 2022 Co-Organizer/Manager, Member Solutions, Hoosier Energy

Since kicking off the Electrify Indiana conference three years ago, Hoosier Energy and its 18-member distribution systems have been actively identifying how co-ops can bring the benefits of emerging technologies to their communities. Collectively, Hoosier Energy’s members serve more than 760,000 consumers in central and southern Indiana and southeastern Illinois.

Low and carbon-free energy solutions, energy efficiency programs and near-term renewable energy projects are all part of the G&T’s updated strategic priorities and long-range resource plan to help members and their consumers reduce emissions and meet clean energy goals.

“While conservation is always a good thing, beneficial electrification takes the idea one step farther,” said Kleaving. “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions through energy consumption, as well as conservation, speaks volumes to today’s consumer.”

Traditional demand side management and energy efficiency programs are making way for projects that reward “smart grid” efficiencies through use of new commercial lighting, HVAC, thermostat or heat-pump technologies. Several beneficial electrification pilots have evolved into expanding programs. Others are showing promise for scaled-up programs that can offer innovative economic development opportunities for the agriculture, transportation and manufacturing industries that support the economic vitality of member cooperative communities.

On a larger scale, battery storage pilots are exploring how battery packs could be used to solve critical power quality issues, optimize production of renewable energy resources or create microgrids to strengthen the reliability and resiliency of the larger interconnected power network.

Electrify Indiana
Smart grid efficiencies extend to commercial lighting, with wide-ranging applications for agribusiness. (Photo: Chris Johnson, Hoosier Energy)

“Electrification doesn’t mean electrify everything,” noted Kleaving. “But where it makes sense, electrification can promote economic growth while reducing the carbon footprint.”

A vehicle charging project is placing direct current (DC) fast EV charging stations at strategic interstate locations that crisscross the southern half of Indiana, a major supply chain corridor. The effort is part of the Indiana Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund program that is installing at least 61 DC fast electric vehicle charging stations across the state by December 2023.

Another initiative is looking at waste-heat technologies for the poultry industry, which contributes more than $12 billion to Indiana’s total economic activity and employs more than 12,000 Hoosiers. This pilot program is now in its second year and already showing promise for greater flock health and food safety.

LED technology installed in southern Indiana greenhouses is helping the state cultivate seasonal crops year-round. The potential for the state’s agricultural industry alone is significant. Agriculture contributes an estimated $31.2 billion to Indiana’s economy. The state is the eighth largest agricultural exporter in the nation, exporting just over $4.6 billion in 2017.

Cooperative Charge, an electric vehicle smart charging program, is demonstrating how consumer charging patterns can help smooth the peaks and valleys of system-wide energy use.

Hoosier Energy’s efforts are part of a strategy to leverage the success of legacy energy efficiency programs to meet growing consumer interest in electrification. The programs are also providing important data on how emerging technologies work on the interconnected electric system to ensure an appropriate balance between reliability and affordability.

Taken together, Hoosier Energy’s programs continued to realize significant large-scale reduction/savings in energy use and demand. In 2021, power reductions in energy savings amounted to 9,050 MWh, a 4.24 megawatt (MW) reduction in winter peak demand and a 2.32 MW reduction in summer peak demand.

Hoosier Energy’s portfolio strategy, combined with members’ expertise in serving energy-intensive industries, and the flexible cooperative business model also supports environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles and disclosures. The G&T’s scalable ESG framework promises to enhance economic development as prospective projects look to communities that favor corporate accountability and good stewardship.

Hoosier Energy’s renewables portfolio is already helping companies meet corporate sustainability goals. Many companies served by Hoosier Energy members are utilizing the G&T’s renewable energy credit (REC) program to achieve their carbon reduction goals. A REC is the environmental attributes associated with 1 megawatt-hour of generation from a renewable energy asset. Instead of building on-site generation, a commercial and industrial member can purchase renewable credits from a member cooperative at a designated price.

“Instead of concentrating only on reducing kW hours, we encourage actions that help businesses save money while helping the environment,” said Kleaving. “It also supports the value consumers place on knowing their energy sources and those of their utility are clean, efficient—the best energy source a consumer would want to have.”