Big changes planned for House coal bill

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — A controversial bill that would pause the closure of coal plants is facing drastic changes in the Senate.

The current House proposal could protect jobs in the coal industry and lead to higher utility bills.

That is why Senate Utility Committee Chair Sen. Jim Merritt is proposing what he calls a middle ground.

“The rate payer is number one in my book,” said Sen. Merritt. “To call it the coal bill would be a misnomer, it would not be correct after the committee gets finished with it.”

Merritt wants to remove the 90-day coal stockpile language in the bill. That part allows utilities to store excess coal and charge ratepayers. He also wants to take out language requiring to keep coal plants open and invest or upgrade plants. Instead, he wants to mandate utilities interested in selling, closing or transferring a plant to follow the Integrated Resource Plans process. This is already being done for the most part but Merritt’s bill would make it law. He says this will stop utilities from closing plants on a whim.

“If we dramatically close coal plants everywhere, we are not going to be able to turn the lights on, we need reliable energy,” said Merritt. “Reliable power and coal gives us that with the idea that alternative energy and the technology behind it is growing as we speak.”

Under Merritt’s version, the bill would only be effective for six months. It would allow a task force to come up with long-term solutions next session, according to Merritt.

“The goal is affordability and reliability,” said Merritt.

Those opposed to the bill said they approve of Merritt’s amendments but are still skeptical.

“We still question the need for the bill,” said Kerwen Olson, Executive Director of the Citizens Action Coalition. “The bill would be in effect from July to December. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

Jesse Kharbanda, the Executive Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council said the amendments would make this bill better.

“But just because there may be an improvement of the bill in the Senate Utilities committee doesn’t necessarily mean that the ultimate bill will be something that a group like ours could support,” said Kharbanda.

The Citizens Action Coalition and Hoosier Environmental Council both say they would rather this bill die now so these issues can be looked at in a different way later.

“We realize that there are problems that have been identified. The fact that we face rising electricity rates. The fact that people are worried about what happens to the jobs that are being lost in Southwest Indiana. But those are handled through different types of legislation,” said Kharbanda.

Merritt said he looks forward to what the task force comes up with next year.

“The alternative energy industry is at the table now, they play a role in the energy mix and they will play a role in the energy plan that will come from this 21st century task force,” said Merritt.

HB 1414 is scheduled on Thursday in the Senate Utilities Committee. We will continue following its progress.

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