As more frequent extreme weather events degrade roadways, bridges, and electricity systems, reports call for climate adaptation plans and increased development of clean energy.  

As intense weather events threaten coastal U.S. cities, two new studies from the Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) warn that climate change could devastate Indiana’s transportation and electricity systems, and call for increased development on clean energy technologies. The studies are being highlighted in a breakout session tomorrow at the 2018 Indiana Society of Professional Engineers Conference.

Read the Studies: Climate Change and Its Impact on Infrastructure Systems in Indiana and The Energy Sector in Indiana: Getting Down and Dirty on Clean Energy Opportunities

“In the wake of widespread flooding in 2008, 2015, and 2018 and severe drought in 2012, Indiana is already experiencing observable impacts from climate change,” said Mary Craighead, the lead author of both studies. “It is vital for policymakers to understand the potential costs of these events and to make the necessary investments in energy and infrastructure systems that can help mitigate the long-term economic consequences.”

Craighead notes that the state’s average annual rainfall has grown 9 percent since 1980 and average temperatures have been rising since the 1950s. Both are linked to physical damage to roadway, bridge, and railway structures.

“Increased heat reduces the lifespan of pavements and can cause railways to buckle, while flooding weakens structural supports for bridges and can deteriorate soil supporting roadways, tunnels, and bridges,” said Craighead. “At best, this translates to higher-than-expected maintenance costs, and at worst, interruptions of services and freight and commuter movements on which the economy depends.”

Craighead notes that Indiana’s above-ground electricity transmission lines are especially susceptible to high winds, ice, snow, and electrical storms.  The state currently ranks 9th in the nation and 3rd in the Midwest in electricity outages due to weather. These occurrences are expected to worsen as infrastructure systems age and extreme weather events become more frequent.

“The high cost of failing roads, bridges, and energy delivery systems is ultimately borne by taxpayers,” Craighead added.  “State and local governments can and must take steps to mitigate these already apparent impacts, by making sure investments in infrastructure, energy systems, and new development reflect today’s climate realties—not the 1950’s.”

The studies provide a range of recommendations—including a state Climate Action Plan with greenhouse gas emissions targets, a climate adaption plan for new and existing infrastructure, updating heat and rainfall standards used in project design, and limiting development in locations prone to flooding.

In particular, one study calls for increased diversification of Indiana’s current coal-based energy production system.  While Indiana is producing more and consuming less energy than in 2000, it pays far more for coal and industrial electricity than other US states. Fully 75 percent of Hoosiers want to see more investment in clean energy and energy efficiency.

“While natural market forces are already producing more renewable energy and less energy demand in Indiana, more can and should be done,” Craighead concluded.  “Prudent planning decisions and wise investments in transportation and energy production are needed to meet Indiana’s long-term infrastructure needs and ensure its economic competitiveness.”

The Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) is a nonprofit organization which uses advanced statistics, reliable surveying techniques, and the latest forecasting models to develop timely and dynamic analysis of policy issues affecting the economies of the Midwest.