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EDITORIAL: Candidates for governor need solid power plans

October 15, 2016

There are few bigger issues facing Hoosiers than Indiana’s energy future. The state’s economy and the strength of its industries will be directly affected by the decisions Indiana leaders make about the way the state regulates power production and distribution and how quickly utilities and manufacturers adapt to alternative fuel sources and options.

These questions are national ones, of course. But they are particularly important in Indiana, where the state’s industrial base (Indiana is the most manufacturing-intensive state in the nation) depends on electricity to run its plants.

For years, the state and those manufacturers have benefited from cheap electricity made possible by coal. But that advantage is dissipating. Already, the cost of retrofitting power plants to burn coal more cleanly has driven up the price.

In 2003, the state had the fifth-lowest electricity rates in the nation across all sectors. By 2013, Indiana had the 23rd-lowest prices. Without changes in energy strategy, that ranking—which plays a part in whether companies locate in the state—is likely to continue to rise.

That’s why it’s so disappointing to learn Indiana’s major-party candidates for governor—Republican Eric Holcomb and Democrat John Gregg—don’t have comprehensive plans for Indiana’s energy future.

In an Oct. 3 IBJ story, reporter John Russell wrote that Holcomb and Gregg each endorse an “all of the above” energy strategy. That’s code for supporting coal and everything else, too.

And that’s great. Coal is abundant and dependable. No matter how strongly Indiana pushes into alternative energies, including wind and solar, coal will remain a dominant energy source for many years.

But if Indiana is to continue competing on the world stage, if it is to provide cleaner air for its residents, if it’s to become a modern state that attracts tech companies and millennials, elected officials must have a strategy for diversifying the state’s power production.

Currently, about 79 percent of Indiana’s electricity production comes from coal while 12 percent is from biofuels and 7 percent from other renewable energies, including wind and solar. The remaining 2 percent comes from natural gas and crude oil.

Renewable energy production in Indiana must increase—and both Holcomb and Gregg seem to share that ideal. But if either candidate has a strategy for increasing Indiana’s use of renewables, he didn’t share it with IBJ.

We’ve been critical of outgoing Gov. Mike Pence’s lack of vision in this area as well. Pence not only sued the Obama administration to stop the Environmental Protection Agency’s new clean air rules, he even declined to develop a plan by which the state would comply with the regulations should they survive the court challenge.

Gregg and Holcomb agree that the EPA’s rules aren’t fair to Indiana. But while Holcomb supports Pence’s approach, Gregg says he doesn’t support suing the federal government. At least that’s something.

But we want to see more. In the remaining weeks before the election, IBJ challenges the candidates for governor to think harder about the state’s energy future and develop strategies for making Indiana a leader in energy diversity and to protect the state’s economic future.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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