House panel approves bill that would prohibit utilities from shutting down coal-fired plants

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A bill that would prevent Indiana utilities from shutting down coal-fired power plants without state permission was approved by a House panel on Wednesday, despite widespread opposition from business, environmental, utility, ratepayer and social justice groups.

The Republican-controlled House Utilities Committee voted 9-4, along party lines, in favor of House Bill 1414, which would prohibit utilities from shutting down plants without approval from state regulators.

Coal accounts for more than 60% of the state’s electricity generation, but several large Indiana utilities are planning to shut down thousands of megawatts of coal-fired generating capacity in favor of cleaner or cheaper fuel sources in coming years.

The bill’s sponsor Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said coal mines around the nation are closing at an alarming rate, putting the reliability and stability of the electricity sector in question. In 2010, Indiana had 26 active coal-burning power units. By 2016, it had just 13. U.S. coal consumption is now at its lowest point in 40 years, and at least six major coal companies have gone bankrupt since 2015.

That is happening as utilities are shifting to cleaner, cheaper sources of fuel to generate electricity, including natural gas and renewables such as wind and power

Soliday said policymakers need time to study how to adjust during a time of sweeping transformation. “It is not a bill to make coal last until the second coming,” he said.

Under an amendment approved by the committee, the bill will expire under a sunset date of July 1, 2021. In the meantime, Soliday said, a statewide energy task force, which has been meeting for the past year, can make recommendation on how to grapple with energy generation and consumption.

But opponents said the bill will interfere with market forces, including cheaper costs of fuel and the falling costs of green technology.

During a hearing that stretched for nearly four hours, more than 30 witnesses testified against the bill. The bill’s only supporters in the audience appeared to be from the coal industry.

Opponents included the Indiana Energy Association, which represents large utilities; the Hoosier Environmental Council; the Indiana Chamber of Commerce; industrial customers; the NAACP; Citizens Action Coalition and several other groups and individuals.

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said the coal industry is trying to manufacture a crisis for Indiana customers. He acknowledged that the coal-mining industry is in distress, but said Indiana customers should not have to prop it up.

“There is no fire bell ringing in the night,” he said.

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8 thoughts on “House panel approves bill that would prohibit utilities from shutting down coal-fired plants

  1. Republicans once stood for unfettered capitalism and free markets. Now some of them appear to be mere errand boys for contributors to their campaigns and want to use government to favor one industry over another. HB1414 is meant to prop up a failing technology in the face of superior, cheaper, and more effective technologies. If a century ago the buggy whip manufacturers had plied compliant legislators to stymie the automobile, we’d still be driving horse-drawn carriages. But in a free market the superior technology–the automobile–prevailed. Coal served its purpose for two centuries. But now better technologies should be allowed to be used.

    1. Did Republicans really ever believe in unfettered capitalism?

      The Republican Civil War era program included a federally subsidized transcontinental, a large national debt, land grants for higher education, a new national banking system, a wartime income tax and permanent high tariffs to promote industrial growth and high wages.

      And what do utilities have to do with capitalism? They are government-enforced monopolies. If Bosma et al believed in capitalism they would end the monopoly power of utilities, but the Republicans have always been cronies. And, no, I am not a Democrat, or socialist for that matter.

  2. Closing coal plants doesn’t affect the reliability of power. The natural gas and renewable plants have been supplying power for years without problems. Shifting does in fact lower energy bills for customers (gas is a lot cheaper than coal now) and cleans the air we all breathe. This bill is simply a protectionist agenda for the coal industry whose time has come and gone.

  3. I was hoping to read why closing these plants is affecting the “reliability and stability of the electricity sector”. I was open to an opposing argument for keeping coal, but I didn’t get that here. Who wouldn’t want cleaner energy and I didn’t come away after reading with a good argument for not continuing to transition to cleaner energy sources. I suppose the argument is that we need different energy sources including coal to diversify what we use and not become dependent on a single source of fuel. While I agree that we need a variety of energy sources I’m not sure why coal has to be part of that and it’s not the politicians job to save the industry (or any industry). They’ll have to transition to something else like many of us have had to do along the way including me in the tech industry many times over.

  4. Unless these legislators are totally living only for tomorrow, not only are they ignoring economics, they are ignoring all of the lives of their loved ones and their children, etc, etc. They are also ignoring the science of climate change. Do they not breathe the same air as the rest of us? Do they not care about themselves beyond money and their jobs?

    In addition, they should have the foresight to know that quality of life is important to attracting new business. Indiana is trying to attract the companies and people who work in the tech economy, for whom clean air is very important!

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