Cheap coal made for cheap electricity and for decades made Indiana a magnet for the energy-hungry manufacturing industry.
But that advantage might soon fall into the scrap bin, as a report from Purdue University suggests
industrial customers in Indiana could see disproportional rate increases in the years ahead as the state’s
coal-intensive electric utilities are forced to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Purdue’s "Projected Impacts of Carbon Dioxide
Emissions Reduction Legislation on Electricity Prices in Indiana" was prepared earlier this year
in response to the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, which was defeated June 6 in the U.S. Senate.
It would have capped carbon emissions, though
regulated utilities would’ve been able to trade credits with other utilities to emit more. Lieberman-Warner
was particularly controversial, however, in part because not everyone agrees man-made carbon dioxide
has a significant effect on global temperature variations that have been cyclical since before the industrial revolution.
Though the legislation fell 12 votes short in
the U.S. Senate, ratepayer groups say a reincarnation is likely to follow after this fall’s elections.
Both presidential candidates, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, have signaled support for caps on carbon
is any indication, Indiana industrial electric customers could see rates climb 38 percent by 2020–perhaps
50 percent by 2025, based on Purdue estimates.
"Those are certainly higher than what would have been anticipated," said Jack Wickes, an
attorney in the utilities practice at Lewis & Kappes in Indianapolis and executive director of Indiana
Industrial Energy Consumers Inc. Members include Eli Lilly and Co., General Motors, Honda Motor, Rolls-Royce
Corp., Subaru of Indiana Automotive and Toyota Motor Manufacturing.
Indiana would be hammered
A bill the likes of Lieberman-Warner will hit Indiana especially hard because the state ranked
fifth in the United States in carbon dioxide emitted annually, according to a 2006 ranking by the Energy
Information Administration. The Purdue report said similar studies "have shown projected national
electricity price increases of 15 to 25 percent in 2025."
Industrials wouldn’t be the only electric customers squeezed by carbon legislation: by 2025, rates
of residential and commercial customers could have risen about 40 percent under Lieberman-Warner, according
to the report.
report was issued earlier this year by three Purdue entities: the State Utility Forecasting Group, the Energy Center
and the Climate Change Research Center. It’s heavy on caveats–noting uncertainty about long-range forecasts and the degree
to which conservation measures and alternative generation will be deployed. The study also didn’t account for technological
advances that could occur.
High-cost and longer-term alternatives to coal generation, such as nuclear power, were dismissed. But the retirement of older
coal-generating plants and the availability of alternatives such as wind and natural gas were considered in the calculations,
said Douglas Gotham, director of the State Utility Forecasting Group.
The report also contemplates that electric utilities would buy a certain number of carbon offsets
to forestall actual investment in clean energy.
Also, the report didn’t include the potential cost of limiting five other greenhouse gases contemplated
by the bill: methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, perfluorocarbons and hydrocarbons.
So although the report’s findings are open to
debate, "I think what it does is sound the alarm we could be causing substantial harm to our manufacturing
electric rates," Wickes said.
‘Least-cost’ mandate needed
Of added concern, Wickes said, is that there is no regulatory framework in Indiana to compel utilities to use a "least-cost"
option to comply with eventual carbon regulations.
Jerry Polk, an Indianapolis attorney representing Citizens Action Coalition in utility cases,
said there were some statutes enacted following the passage of the federal Clean Air Act that required
use of least-cost options for specific pollutants. Beyond that, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission
generally does not see itself as being required to compel utilities to choose the least-cost option insofar
as carbon is concerned, Polk added.
Without such state legislation enacted, investor-owned utilities are prone to spend billions on costly and risky compliance
options, then seek IURC approval to recover the costs from ratepayers–all to protect the interests of their shareholders,
said CAC Executive Director Grant Smith.
One of the most infamous examples the group points to was Senate Bill 224, which failed in the most recent session of the
state Legislature. It would have allowed utilities to pass on to ratepayers the cost of research and development of carbon
controls for coal-fired power plants.
"Meanwhile, off-the-shelf technologies that can produce billions in savings for ratepayers languish because the utility
industry controls the Senate Utilities & Regulatory Affairs Committee," said the CAC in a response
to the failed bill.
preferred way to blunt costs of carbon regulation is for utilities to aggressively deploy other options now, such as increased
use of wind and other renewable-energy resources, as well as energy-efficiency programs, Smith said.
Electric utilities such as Duke Energy and Indianapolis
Power and Light have bought or will soon buy power from newly erected wind turbines in Indiana. Duke
also has proposed an energy-efficiency program that currently is being evaluated by the IURC.
Now or later
Ratepayer group CAC is particularly troubled, however, by a $2 billion coal gasification plant
Duke is building in Edwardsport and the carbon liability it’s likely to incur.
Duke has proposed injecting and storing carbon
dioxide into deep underground formations. This so-called "carbon sequestration" technology
is still being developed and is likely to be costly. Duke has not included those costs in the construction of the
"What is ‘least
cost’ needs to be looked at today," said Polk, "and not be pushed off into the future."
One advantage of dealing with coming carbon
issues now is that it would pump more money into the renewable-energy sector today–cultivating new companies
and creating new jobs in the state, Smith said.
Industrial ratepayer advocate Wickes acknowledged there "is significant interest in the economic
viability of Indiana coal," but he said policymakers in Indiana should remember the state’s manufacturing
sector as a whole is much more important.