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Sierra Club wants Indianapolis coal plant closed

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The Sierra Club is pressing Indianapolis' local utility to retire an aging coal-fired power plant that's slated to continue burning coal for at least two more decades and has long been the capital city's biggest industrial polluter.

The environmental group and its supporters say the 427-megawatt unit at Indianapolis Power & Light's Harding Street complex threatens the public health with toxic emissions that cause respiratory woes in children, the elderly and others.

A resolution supported by the Sierra Club, the consumer watchdog group Citizens Action Coalition, neighborhood organizations and other groups was endorsed Tuesday by a City-County Council panel calling for IPL to retire the unit and replace it with a clean, renewable energy source. That measure heads next to the full council for an Aug. 18 vote.

Jodi Perras, the Indiana representative for Sierra Club' Beyond Coal Campaign, told the council's community affairs committee that Indianapolis is now the last major Midwestern city with a coal-fired plant in its city limits that isn't being phased out. She said Indianapolis gained that status last month after Omaha, Neb., officials voted to retire that city's coal-fired plant by 2016.

"We should not be the last major Midwestern city with a coal-fired power plant in our community," Perras told the panel Tuesday. "It is the No. 1 source of dangerous sulfur dioxide pollution and the No. 1 source of direct soot pollution in our community."

In 2012, the Harding Street unit released more than 1.6 million pounds of toxic pollution and accounted for about 88 percent of all of Marion County's toxic industrial emissions, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data.

Earlier this year, the American Lung Association ranked the Indianapolis-Carmel-Muncie metropolitan area as having the nation's 16th worst air for short-term particle pollution, also known as soot, which is a powerful lung irritant that's the main ingredient in smog.

The Sierra Club wants IPL to commit to mothballing the coal-fired unit by 2020 as part of a 20-year energy plan the utility must submit by Nov. 1 to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

IPL, which serves about 470,000 customers in Indianapolis and surrounding counties, currently plans to continue burning coal at the coal-fired power plant until at least 2034, said IPL spokeswoman Brandi Davis-Handy.

But, she said, IPL continues to work on a cost-analysis of its draft energy plan "to make sure we're making the right decision" about the utility's future power-generation methods.

Davis-Handy said that if the full council votes next month in favor of the resolution calling for it to retire that unit, that vote would just be "one of many factors" the utility will consider in finalizing its energy plan.

"We are taking the feedback that we're getting from different groups and our customers very seriously," she said Wednesday. "But at the end of the day we're challenged with making sure we can continue making power in a cleaner and more efficient way, and also making sure our customers are able to pay their bills."

IPL won the IURC's approval in May to convert two 106-megawatt units at its Indianapolis complex from coal to natural gas as part of nearly $670 million in improvements at two power plants to meet tougher federal environmental regulations.

Regulators last year approved IPL's plan to upgrade the 427-megawatt unit with pollution controls by 2017 that will cut its mercury emissions by more than 80 percent. The Sierra Club also fought against those upgrades, saying IPL should simply close the plant.

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  • Isn't this .....
    In another job I used to work with IPL and it seems to me that if you notice there were or are 2 smokestacks at the plant on Harding. The one they use currently isn't that old. I remember when they built that one and quit using the other one. This one is 10 x's better than the other smokestack and the smoke is white comparatively. Unless I'm wrong how can people say this one is aging when its not yet even 15 years old.
  • MarkusR
    thank you. Too many aren't aware of the exponential growth of clean energy - why doesn't IPL understand it?
  • Just to appease fears
    Base-load needs from the closing of the plant could easily be handled by a combination of the existing grid and renewables, while the peak power loads can be handled by renewables all by themselves. Central Indiana still has a massive shortage of renewable energy production and can easily add hundreds of megawatts if it wants. It's about the will of doing it, not the ability.
    • green energy
      Sierra Club and the tens of other environmental organizations have the facts about carbon pollution and global warming on our side. All one needs to do is read with an open mind. The tobacco industry used the same formula decades ago to maintain the status quo. For the practicing religious person, listen to what faith leaders have published. Yes, we have to change our habits and source of energy. Study solar and wind power. Both, as well as wave poser, hydropower, cannot be used up. Oil, coal and gas and finite as well as polluting. Clean energy is neither, and as a bonus will add more jobs and build the economy. EB Indy - this is not a liberal issue. It is a human and environmental issue.
    • Shift our focus
      Sounds like the citizens who either can't afford so called 'renewable' energy and prefer to live with less expensive electricity need to refocus on making the Sierra Club and citizen's action coalition spend their time and resources on other issues so they don't ruin the lives of others. Isn't that their typical method? It is amazing to me how such a small percentage of the population can have such a negative affect on the rest of us.
    • George Phillips
      You're right - gas is cheaper and I believe the market is doing well to dictate a switch cleaner sources of fuel. The government should leave well enough alone. However, gas prices can be volatile, so utilities would be foolish to put all their eggs in one basket (just like they did with coal in the late 70s/early 80s). We need an effective mix of energy sources. And until super-heavy-duty battery technology is invented to store 100s of megawatts at a time, renewables should be counted on only as supplemental, unlike what our Big Green friends want us to believe.
    • Statistics and common sense
      A big part of why Harding Street "accounted for about 88 percent of all of Marion County's toxic industrial emissions" is because there is very little industry (and good-paying jobs) left in Marion Co. And I think Perras' claim about SO2 is bogus because IPL already installed scrubber technology to restrict NOx and SO2 emissions, and the mercury control will take out more. What's left will be carbon dioxide - and if the coal industry wants their product to remain a viable generating source, they need to invent a technology that will neutralize CO2. The problem with this resolution is that, as usual, Sierra Club, CAC never offer real alternatives. Do they want us as a society to move backward? Live in tents, reduce the life expectancy of humans? They're anti-gas, anti-nuclear, anti-coal, which tells me they're pro-blackout. Like I said in a post last week, to eliminate all of IPL's coal generation and replace it with wind, you'd need 500-foot tall turbines spread over an area larger than Marion, Johnson and Brown counties COMBINED. It's insane, this dialogue.
    • then what?
      Anyone every notice that they want to shut down the coal fired plant and replace it with a "clean renewable energy source" but, they never mention what that source is? I'll tell you why.....it's because there is currently NO other source of energy that works on the scale that would be needed to replace that plant. NONE. I'm all for renewable energy but, let's find one that works before we're all left in the dark!
    • stink
      Down wind, that smell is more likely the Covanta trash burner, also located on Harding Street, than the IPL plant.
    • External Costs
      EB Indy, You are only focusing on internalized costs to you, as a user of the service. What you don't factor in is the externalized costs, by way of pollution and health impacts, to the broader population. Because you demand falsely cheap electricity, others suffer, at great expense, the respiratory and lung problems associated with electricity production. In short, we all pay the higher cost for "cheap" electricity, it is just a hidden and diluted fee through health care and quality of life.
    • IPL Stinks
      I live downtown and can smell the Harding street plant. This is not a political issues unless your a Fox News minion.
    • SMOG
      Have you ever seen the pall of haze-smog hanging over the city?
    • IPL
      These liberals are out of control. They want to drive our economy into the ground and double and triple our electric bills. Sierra Club, stay out of Indy!

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