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.