Bill advances to pause Indiana coal power plant closings

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A proposal aimed at making it more difficult for Indiana electric companies to close additional coal-fired power plants faces objections from consumer and environmental groups who argue it could stifle growth in renewable energy such as wind and solar power.

The Indiana House utilities committee voted 9-4 Wednesday along party lines to advance the bill to the full House. That vote came after the committee scaled back the bill so that restrictions on power plant closures only last until July 2021.

Republican Rep. Ed Soliday of Valparaiso, the bill's sponsor, said he wanted a one-year pause in additional plant closings because of what he sees as a gap for when renewable sources can provide reliable and stable electricity service. He also said he wants the delay so more plant closings aren't in motion before a state energy task force completes a report for legislators that's due in late 2020.

“We will need the backup power until this thing sorts out,” Soliday said.

The proposal comes as Indiana’s four main electric utilities intend on closing several coal-burning plants in the coming years. Those include plans from Indianapolis Power & Light Co. to retire by 2023 two of the four coal-burning units at its Petersburg Generating Station in southeastern Indiana, while Merrillville-based Northern Indiana Public Service Co. aims to shut down four of its five remaining coal-fired units within five years.

Coal industry analyst Emily Medine argued in support of the bill, saying existing coal-burning plants provide affordable and reliable power, and closing those plants would be an irreversible decision.

The consumer group Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana maintains the pause unnecessarily hampers the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and gives incentives to an outdated power source.

“It interferes in the market place,” said Kerwin Olson, the group’s executive director. “It is going to cost customers money, it’s going to increase regulatory lag.”

Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, said he worried about the one-year pause being extended and hindering the development of cleaner energy sources.

“Right now, the bill is a temporary roadblock to modernizing the power sector in Indiana but we’re worried about it becoming a permanent roadblock,” Kharbanda said.

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