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Solar farms could be a 'game-changer' for rural Indiana communities

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screenshot from symposium YouTube video
Doral Renewables President and CEO Nick Cohen and Pulaski County Community Development Commission Executive Director Nathan Origer discuss the Mammoth Solar project during a Valparaiso University symposium on Apr. 9.

Solar energy is presenting new opportunities for Indiana's rural communities. Doral Renewables is currently developing one of the country's largest solar farms in Starke and Pulaski counties.

While Northern Indiana may not have as much sunlight as southwestern states, Doral President and CEO Nick Cohen says it has a number of advantages. "You have access to, really, the two biggest grid systems in America in one place. It's flat. There's demand for the power. It's sunny. And you have a state government that is very strong behind the industry cluster," Cohen said during a Valparaiso University symposium highlighting advances in solar energy.

Cohen doesn't believe switching the land from crop growing to solar energy will have much of an impact on crop production, and he says it will have a positive environmental impact by reducing the amount of pesticide seeping into the groundwater and the amount of water being used for irrigation.

He says the Mammoth Solar project represents a $1.6 billion investment into the community and will bring at least $40 million in revenue to Pulaski County over the next 20 years. The executive director of the Pulaski County Community Development Commission, Nathan Origer, says that's a game-changer for a county that's lost almost a thousand residents since the 2010 census and missed out on millions of dollars due to a property tax freeze.

"The millions of dollars that we will have that is much more discretionary than tax revenues that are very narrowly tailored by state law and local law — just creates an incredible opportunity for us," Origer said.