Indiana lawmakers pass controversial coal bill

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A controversial bill that would prohibit Indiana utilities from  shutting down coal-fired power plants before May 2021 has passed both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly and is on its way to Gov. Eric Holcomb for his signature.

The chambers, both controlled by Republicans, had approved widely different versions of the bill, but they came together Tuesday on a conference report.

The House passed the bill 55-38, and the Senate passed the bill 28-21.

The bill comes as large utilities across Indiana have announced plans to shut down thousands of megawatts of coal-fired generating capacity in favor of cheaper fuel sources, such as natural gas, solar and wind.

However, no Indiana utility has announced plans to shut a coal-fired plant by May 2021, leading some Democrats to ask why the bill was pushed so hard–and whether the sunset date of May 2021 would be removed next year.

“I’m always amused when we’re told the bill will affect no one and does nothing, but it’s essential that we pass it,” Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington.

Many environmental groups, consumer advocates and business groups also opposed the bill. Many of them called it a bailout of the coal industry. Coal still accounts for more than 70% of the electricity generated in Indiana, but 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.

Many Republicans say the state needs to pause during the industry transformation to cheaper energy and figure out whether the energy grid would be threatened by a continued move away from coal. Closings also affect communities, said Rep. Edward Soliday, R-Valparaiso.

“When you close a (coal-fired) plant, it has a huge impact,” Soliday said. “People need time to plan.”

But some significant Republicans voted against the final bill, including Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, chairman of the Senate Utilities Committee, who shepherded a less-controversial version of the bill through the upper chamber.  He said the state’s utility regulatory process was working, and didn’t need the new requirements.

The final bill requires any utility that suddenly decides it wants to close a coal-fired plant to have a public hearing before state regulators and explain its rationale. That process could take six months.

Normally, however, utilities plan years ahead before building or shutting down generating plants through a lengthy process called the Integrated Resource Plan, which they are required to update every three years, with several public hearings.

A state task force is now working on a comprehensive energy policy. The report is due in December.

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7 thoughts on “Indiana lawmakers pass controversial coal bill

  1. Excellent; Holcomb should sign it post-haste.

    This bill is widely misunderstood by its detractors. It is simply The Public Service Utilities Commission doing its job to protect consumers from high electric rates when subsidies for alternate energy run out and electric companies wish they had not shuttered their coal-fired plants until technology can catch up with demand. A little education here would do wonders for understanding this bill, but the misinformation dispensed by its detractors and lack of desire on their part to understand the purpose of the bill are difficult obstacles to overcome.

  2. The next time you pay your electric bill and gripe about how much it is, just remember, it could be worse if we didn’t have our cheap coal fired burners making electricity. And if by chance, another technology makes a cheaper power, it is the utility’s duty to bring that technology forward and retire these coal fired units. I do not need a “greenie” telling me I need to pay more for power.

  3. Way to go legislature. Let’s keep Indiana backwoods and in the dark for many more years. When the environmental experts tell us it’s time to let dirty coal go by way of the dinosaurs and move forward to help save this planet, we have legislators who, in their infinite wisdom, feel they know better. Obviously, ignorance and one’s egotistical belief in their own knowledge is alive and well in our local as well as national “leaders.” So many of our so called representatives need to either lead or get out of the way.

    1. And equally obvious is that many posters to this topic don’t understand the Public Utilities Commission’s reasons for the bill.

  4. I thought you conservatives were for letting the market operate freely. This is protectionism for the few coal companies and their workers downstate. Nothing more. The legislature knows zero about protecting the stability of the grid. We have some of the worst air pollution in the country.

    1. See my response to Pat M, Sherman. The “protectionism” is for ALL Hoosiers, who will surely pay more for electricity if coal-fired generating plants shut down and subsidies for other sources dry up. You really ought to try to understand what this is all about; to say it is “nothing more” that the entities you cite reflects ignorance of the Public Utilities Commission reasons for doing this.