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Ind. bill looks to preserve existing power plants

Proposed legislation in Indiana would add another hurdle to electric utilities that plan to shut down or sell their power plants.

House Bill 1414, introduced Jan. 15 in the Indiana General Assembly, states that a public utility "may not retire, sell, transfer, or terminate a lease with respect to an electric generation facility" unless the utility obtains approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. The commission must determine that "the public convenience and necessity require the retirement, sale, transfer, or lease termination."

In addition, if the retirement or removal of a power plant is tied to federally mandated requirements, the utility must submit the directive to the commission for review.

During such review, however, the utility "shall not act, or fail to act, in any manner that will materially and adversely affect the operation, safety, capacity, economic useful life, or any other aspect of the electric generation facility," the bill states.

NiSource Inc. subsidiary Northern Indiana Public Service Co. plans to retire all of its coal capacity in the state within the next 10 years as part of the company's transition to cleaner energy resources. The utility has issued three separate requests for proposals targeting 2,600 MW of wind, solar and storage capacity to replace its aging coal-fired fleet.

The utility will retire the 1,625-MW R.M. Schahfer coal plant in 2023 and the 469-MW Michigan City coal plant in 2028.

American Electric Power Co. Inc. agreed to retire its 1,300-MW Rockport Unit 1 in Spencer County, Ind., by the end of 2028 as part of a U.S. District Court-approved agreement concerning air pollution from multiple AEP plants in the Midwest. The Rockport unit, operated by AEP subsidiary Indiana Michigan Power Co., is among the largest coal units in the nation.

"Today, our investments are focused on renewable generation and advanced technologies that enhance service for our customers," AEP Chairman, President and CEO Nicholas Akins said in a July 2019 written statement following the modified consent agreement. "This shift in focus achieves ongoing emission reductions and provides the resources and services that our customers have told us they expect from their energy company."

An October 2019 report from nonprofit consulting group Applied Economics Clinic said the quicker Indiana can transition away from coal to solar and wind, the more savings it will realize.

"Maintaining Indiana's coal fleet for the next 30 years is the most expensive option for the state, while replacing all coal with 100[%] renewable resources by 2030 is the least-cost option," Applied Economics Clinic researchers wrote.

Meanwhile, Indiana regulators in April 2019 rejected a request by Vectren Energy Delivery of Indiana-South, known legally as Southern Indiana Gas and Electric Co., to replace generation capacity from three coal-fired power plants with an 850-MW, combined-cycle natural gas plant. The regulator said the utility failed to adequately consider alternatives such as building multiple smaller-scale renewable generation resources.

Vectren is now owned by Houston-headquartered CenterPoint Energy Inc.