Lawmakers back new steps on coal plant closures

By TOM DAVIES
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — A proposal that environmental groups have decried as propping up the coal industry narrowly won approval Tuesday from Indiana lawmakers.

Republican sponsors of the bill said its provisions making it more difficult for electric utility companies to close more coal-fired power plants are needed to allow time for a state energy task force to complete a report for legislators that's due in late 2020. The proposal cleared the Senate in a 28-21 vote, while House members endorsed it by a 55-38 margin.

Republican Rep. Ed Soliday of Valparaiso, the bill's sponsor, said the restrictions only last until May 2021 and that no announced coal plant closures are scheduled to take place until after that date.

“We want to set policy in the task force and in the Legislature,” Soliday said. “That gives us the task force time plus one legislative session, so it applies to no one except those closing a plant before May 2021.”

The proposal comes as at least four large Indiana 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 southwestern Indiana, while Merrillville-based Northern Indiana Public Service Co. aims to shut down four of its five remaining coal-fired units within five years.

Opponents argued that the proposal threatens higher electricity bills for consumers and adding bureaucratic steps for companies with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Consumer and environmental groups have argued it could stifle growth in renewable energy such as wind and solar power.

Rep. Matt Pierce, a Democrat from Bloomington, said lawmakers were possibly getting in the way of utility companies making business decisions on how they generate electricity.

“I think the signal we send is that Indiana is not a forward-thinking place that’s embracing the energy of the future, but somebody, a Legislature, that is trying to cling to the past,” Pierce said.

Senate Utilities Committee Chairman Jim Merritt, an Indianapolis Republican, opposed the bill, saying it could increase electricity costs with the additional utility commission review for proposed plant closing.

“This is lawyers, folks,” Merritt told fellow senators. “The lawyers love this for the utilities.”




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