Caryl Auslander: Indiana needs affordable, reliable renewable energy to attract 21st century gold rush

Indiana has a proud manufacturing legacy that continues to this day, but the state now finds itself at a crossroads. While industry is coming to Indiana to build data centers and computer chip manufacturing plants that will power 21st century America, some in the state seem more concerned with clinging to the past than laying the foundation Indiana needs to succeed. face the moment.

A recent commentary, “The New Gold Rush: Fueling Indiana’s Data Center Boom,” asserted that Indiana needs coal to power the manufacturing centers of the digital age, and advocated forcing state utilities to been to keep aging coal power plants running even when those utilities would prefer to make the switch to lower-cost, reliable renewable energy resources. Frankly, the strategy doesn’t work.

Data and microchips may be the lifeblood of the digital age, but clean, reliable and affordable energy is the essential foundation on which everything else will be built. The energy-hungry industries Indiana wants to attract aren’t just looking for ample space, a central location and a business-friendly environment. Leaving aside that the Googles and Microsofts of the world often explicitly seek abundant renewable energy sources, in all cases they seek to locate their investments where energy is abundant, reliable, and affordable in a way that only renewable energy can be.

It is cheaper to build and connect new renewable energy sources to the grid than to continue operating coal-fired power plants and, together with other proven high-tech tools, we can provide clean energy at any time of the day or year. Large-scale batteries, for example, are already making the difference between a reliable grid and a potential disaster in states like Texas, sometimes covering coal facilities that fail under the high stress of record heat. And distributed energy resources, such as rooftop solar, energy storage systems and smart thermostats, can be linked across neighborhoods in so-called “virtual power plants,” allowing Hoosiers to play the role of energy producers, selling their extra energy to the grid when needed. I needed more.

Returning to the gold rush metaphor, what began with miners flocking on foot to dig with shovel and plate resulted in a boom in technological development. Machines were built to extract and refine gold more efficiently. Railways were built to transport the bounty. And when the gold rush ended, it was these investments that continued to sustain the economies that the gold rush had built.

Advanced energy technologies are the current equivalent of those technologies. Building them in Indiana is both a challenge the state must meet to benefit from the 21st century gold rush and an opportunity that will continue to pay dividends for generations.

At this point, coal is fool’s gold.

Caryl Auslander leads state policy and regulatory work in Indiana for Advanced Energy United, an industry association representing the full range of advanced energy technologies and services. This commentary previously appeared on Send comments to (email protected).