Indiana needs renewable energy, not coal, to attract and power the "21st Century Gold Rush." (Robert Zullo/States Newsroom)
Indiana needs renewable energy, not coal, to attract and power the "21st Century Gold Rush." (Robert Zullo/States Newsroom)
Indiana has a proud legacy of manufacturing that continues to this day, but the state is now at a crossroads. While industry is coming to Indiana to build the data centers and computer chip manufacturing plants that will power America’s 21st century, some in the state appear more concerned with clinging to the past than with laying the groundwork Indiana needs to meet the moment.

Recent commentary, ‘The new gold rush: powering Indiana’s data center boom,’ claimed that Indiana needs coal to power the manufacturing centers of the digital age, advocating for forcing the state’s utilities to keep dated coal power plants running even when those utilities would rather make the switch to lower-cost, reliable renewable energy resources. Quite frankly, the strategy doesn’t compute.

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

Renewable energy sources, not coal

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

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

Advanced energy technologies are today’s equivalent of those technologies. Building them in Indiana is both a challenge the state needs to tackle head on in order 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.

© Indiana Capital Chronicle, 2024 The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.