IPL moves to drop coal from Harding Street power plant

Indianapolis' electricity utility plans to convert its aging Harding Street power plant entirely to natural gas by 2016, after facing growing pressure to do so from environmental groups and politicians.

Indianapolis Power & Light Co. said Friday that it soon would file plans with state regulators to convert the Harding Street plant's coal-fired Unit 7 generator to natural gas.

In May, IPL received approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to convert the plant’s two other coal-powered units to natural gas. Unit 7, the largest boiler, was expected to keep burning coal until at least 2034.

The move will add about $1 to the average customer’s monthly bill, an IPL spokewoman told IBJ. The utility serves more than 470,000 customers in Marion and surrounding counties.

CEO Kelly Huntington told the Associated Press that the switch was the “least cost option” for the utility in light of new federal environmental regulations.

“IPL has a commitment to provide affordable electricity, and converting Harding Street Unit 7 to natural gas is the best plan for our customers because it is the reasonable, least cost option,” Huntington said in prepared comments. “Compliance with current and future EPA standards will continue to increase the cost of electricity for our customers.”

As a result of converting Unit 7 to natural gas, the Harding Street coal pile and ash ponds will be closed, IPL said.

Local environmental and citizens advocacy groups hailed the decision after making public demands that IPL cease burning coal at the Harding Street plant on the city’s southwest side.

“We applaud IPL for recognizing the costs and risks that would have accompanied the continued use of dirty coal at Harding Street,” said Kerwin Olson, Executive Director of Citizens Action Coalition. “Ending the use of coal not only benefits the health and environment of our community, but will go a long way in protecting the pocketbooks of ratepayers.”

Environmental groups have quoted EPA statistics saying that Harding Street’s coal-fired operations were responsible for 88 percent of the toxic industrial pollution released in 2012 in Marion County.

In July, City-County Councilors Zach Adamson and Wlliam “Duke” Oliver introduced a resolution calling on IPL to work with the council and the Indianapolis Office of Sustainability to shift away from coal.

Jodi Perras of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign says more than 55 local groups passed resolutions urging IPL to retire the plant that's long been Indianapolis' biggest industrial polluter.

She says "today, those calls have been answered." But Perras says the Sierra Club and other groups will now focus on ensuring coal ash around the plant is cleaned up.

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