February 7, 2019 Read More →

Indiana NAACP pushing NIPSCO for earlier closure of Michigan City coal plant

Energy News Network:

A northwest Indiana utility made headlines in September when it announced it will retire its last coal plant within a decade. That is not soon enough for the predominately African American community that bears the brunt of the plant’s pollution burden.

NIPSCO’s new timeline for coal retirements has been widely celebrated by environmental groups both in and outside the state. Meanwhile, Indiana NAACP leaders continue to press the utility and regulators to act with greater urgency. “Those most impacted should not have to wait another decade for clean air,” said La’Tonya Troutman, environmental chair for the NAACP chapter in Michigan City, where NIPSCO plans to continue operating its coal plant through 2028.

NIPSCO surprised many with its announcement that it would speed up coal plant retirements by about a decade and replace the generation with solar, wind and storage instead of a new natural gas plant. The utility retired its Bailly Generating Station in 2018 and now plans to close its R.M. Schahfer Generating Station in Wheatfield by 2023 and the Michigan City plant five years after that.

State and local NAACP chapters say it is unacceptable for NIPSCO to leave Michigan City — the plant with the most African Americans living in its shadow — running for years beyond the rest of the utility’s coal fleet. They are calling on the utility to retire the plant by 2025. But that would pose an unacceptable risk to its reliability, according to NIPSCO planning documents. NIPSCO says keeping the Michigan City plant open until 2028 will buttress the energy delivery system while the utility upgrades its grid and secures new wind and solar generation. The plant already has the costly emissions control upgrades that would be necessary to keep R.M. Schahfer open for longer instead.

In a previous round of long-term planning that ended in 2016, NIPSCO determined it would close both units of its coal-fired Bailly plant in 2018 (which it did) and two of five R.M. Schahfer units by 2023. The rest of Schahfer and the Michigan City plant would keep running as late as 2037 or beyond. NIPSCO’s new plan would close the Michigan City plant by around a decade earlier than previously planned. Its analysis also showed that an even earlier retirement would save customers more money still, but it says more time is needed to expand transmission and secure new generation, which is underway. The utility recently announced agreements for 800 megawatts of new wind capacity that will be online by 2020.

“From a pure economic standpoint, the lowest-cost option for customers pointed toward retiring all remaining coal immediately,” said NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer. “However, we must ensure the reliability of our system for customers and there are steps that need to occur prior to the coal retirements.”

More: Indiana NAACP leaders say coal plant timeline is unacceptable for residents

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