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Indiana Republicans aim to prohibit opening new power plants

Power plant (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Republicans have proposed an amendment that would temporarily ban the opening of new, large power plants.

The moratorium would prohibit state regulators from approving any new power plants, new power contracts or alterations in fuel sources until Jan. 1, 2021. Massive power plants would be barred from generating capacity greater than 250 megawatts.

The House Utilities Committee approved the amendment Wednesday, the Indiana Business Journal reported. Rep. Ed Soliday, the amendment’s sponsor, said Gov. Eric Holcomb backs the proposal.

The state needs to determine whether shifting from coal to natural gas and renewables would throw the electric grid out of balance, Soliday said.

The amendment can now be considered in the House and the Senate.

Indiana’s coal industry, like in many states, has struggled as electric utilities shift from aging coal-burning units to cost-efficient fuels. The proposal comes as two major utilities have reported plans in recent months to significantly transition away from coal.

Mark Maassel, president of the Indiana Energy Association, which represents large, investor-owned utilities, said his association has expressed concerns to Soliday about the proposal.

“We’re very concerned about this,” Maassel said. “The interruption of the normal flow of things at the utility regulatory commission is problematic for us.”

Northern Indiana Public Service Co., headquartered in Merrillville, hopes to retire four of its five remaining coal-fired, electricity-burning units within five years, and the other within ten years. The company noted that the change will save it $4 billion over the next 20 years.

NIPSCO said it is still reviewing the proposal and declined to comment whether it would endanger its future projects.

Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, a grassroots consumer group, said the temporary ban on plants does not make sense since it contradicts an expansive national effort toward cost-effective, cleaner electricity.

“The only winner here is coal,” said Kerwin Olson, the group’s executive director. “This is absolutely a decision to slow down, if not stop, the planned retirement of multiple coal-fired power plants in Indiana and directly interferes in decisions Indiana utilities have already made to transition away from coal.”

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