Local Solar Potential – WAFT

Area solar experts Leah Thill of the Michiana Area Council of Governments and Glenn Gilbert of Goshen College shed light on how solar potential has increased and where it might lead as policies and economics change.

Event Highlights: (click here for full event)

It might come as a surprise, but Goshen and the surrounding region have become a hotbed of solar activity, with more solar capacity per capita than cities like San Antonio, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. Since 2016, Goshen has achieved SolSmart Gold status as a solar-friendly city and added about 100 new solar arrays at local businesses, churches, homes, schools, and even on city land — many through last year’s Solarize Goshen initiative. Large industry and small off-grid Amish installations have also helped put our region on the solar map in a unique way. These investments will continue to generate power and income for decades to come.

To dig in deeper, use the concept map to explore related content mapped out on the Goshen Guide collection.

“Becoming a producer instead of a consumer … that’s why people get excited about solar.”  Glenn

Introductions of Leah and Glenn


I did it at home first because it was my money — I didn’t have to feel responsible to anybody else for it. So I put a few panels up in my house and have been watching them now for eight years … It’s been rewarding. It’s gratifying to be something besides a consumer; to become a producer is pretty neat.”  Glenn

“I ended up realizing that I didn’t want to be down in the weeds tinkering with the molecule to perfect it … I wanted to get the existing technology out there and help change things now. Impatient, but also with this broader view of how things connected in policy and science and bridging the gap between the two.”  Leah

Local and Global Maps of Power


“This is one of my favorite charts that shows solar potential, because it puts Germany right next to the United States. And you can see that there are more similarities in the color between Seattle and Alaska than there are with our part of the world — and Germany has the most solar per capita of any place in the world.” — Leah

What led to the abundance of solar in Goshen?


I think critical mass is just kind of one of those things: If your neighbor is doing it, and you see that they’re happy and they can show you the numbers and why it works, then you say, ‘Well, I think I can do that too.’ I think that’s one of our distinctives. We got to that tipping point where now it doesn’t feel as risky or as ‘out there’ because you see that it’s happening all over your neighborhood. Glenn

“I actually discourage people from going for one hundred percent (solar power). It disincentivizes all of the other ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint through conservation, which in almost every case is a far more effective return on your investment.”  Glenn

Financial Implications of Going Solar


“(Years ago,) I installed a very small system, 10 panels. I paid probably $8 or $9 per watt for my system. I had my own rationale for why that was okay to do, because if I put the money in a certificate of deposit I got even less return on it, so my wife and I were able to come to this decision. I did not recommend that the College invest its money that way, because we could do so much better with conservation than we could with solar.” — Glenn

Goshen Wins Green Communities Project of the Year Award

In 2017, Goshen achieved SolSmart Gold Designation and Accelerate Indiana Municipalities named Goshen the 2018 winner of Green Communities Project of the Year Award for it’s work on Solar Energy.

“(SolSmart) is a Department of Energy program designed to make it easier, cheaper, and faster for folks to go solar. A large component of it is taking an internal look as a city at your processes, and any barriers and zoning codes, and sort of ironing those out first — and then going out and doing public engagement and education. ” — Leah

Changes to Local and State Laws


“What happened when the law passed to phase out net metering [in 2017], people fought it very hard on one side but that generated a lot of media like “Solar Dies in Indiana”… because of that it was like a self-fulfilling prophecy. [People assumed net metering was immediately unavailable]. …But there is still net metering for thirteen and half years. That’s about equivalent to or more than enough time to break even.” — Leah

Solarize Goshen Results and Impacts


“Solarize is a group discount structured program; you put out a request for proposals and installers bid with pricing and panels and give you a discount and a rebate structure … A big part of it is also the education and the hand-holding of very busy people with busy lives, who are overwhelmed with too much information. When you buy a car, maybe you know someone who also has, and you can ask questions — but we’re not at that place with solar, and you may only buy it once in your life.” — Leah

Institutional Installations


“Goshen High School has (solar) on the roof — that’s a ‘feed-in tariff.’ Waterford (Elementary) also has it … There are a couple of dozen in the state, and it’s all been within the last three years.” … “Warsaw has multiple projects, $9 million dollars worth. Tippecanoe Valley put it on Mentone Elementary … Michigan City did a huge project.” — Leah

What’s next for Solar in the Area?


“Some would say, ‘oh we’re just going green.’ And that’s a wonderful thing, but really when we looked at it, it’s also the best financial decision.” — NIPSCO Rep

Q&A – Advice, Distributed Power, and Turbines on Lake Michigan


“I would use the word ‘imagination.’ How does one instill an image or an idea? You do it through storytelling and you do it through example. Those are hard things to nail down. It is a bit of magic too, that comes out of a groundswell of enthusiasm.”  Glenn

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About The Author

David Leaman-Miller

Originally from Denver, Colorado, David Leaman-Miller graduated from Goshen College in 2017 where he studied Film and Sustainability. He currently works as a Fellow for the Community Resilience Guild and is one of the primary developers of the Goshen Guide.

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