IPL to retire two of its four remaining coal-fired power units by 2023

Under pressure from political leaders and environmentalists, Indianapolis Power & Light Co. said Monday it plans to retire two of the four coal-burning units at its massive Petersburg Generating Station by 2023.

The power plant, about 120 miles southwest of Indianapolis, has been called a “super polluter” by environmental groups. It has racked up more than a dozen environmental violations in the past five years, emitting excess sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide particulate matter and sulfuric mist. All four units at the power station have run afoul of regulations.

Petersburg is the largest generating station in IPL’s fleet, with generating capacity of 1,700 megawatts–enough to light up factories, homes and shopping centers across central Indiana.

IPL said it would retire Unit 1 at the plant by 2021 and Unit 2 by 2023. The two units went into service in the late 1960s. The move will cut 630 megawatts of coal generation, but leave two active coal-burning units running at the power plant until at least 2042.

This is the latest move by IPL to reduce its coal footprint. The Indianapolis-based utility stopped using coal in recent years at two of its plants—Harding Street in Indianapolis and Eagle Valley in Martinsville—in favor of natural gas. IPL doesn’t have any other coal-using plants.

IPL officials outlined their plans as part of its “integrated resource plan,” a 20-year strategy for generating power that all electric utilities are required to file every three years. The plans are not firm commitments, and utilities sometimes change their minds about when to retire old generating capacity and when and how they will replace it. But the forecasts are road maps that tell the public how the companies plan to make big investments in coming decades.

“The integrated resource planning process is an opportunity for IPL leaders to listen, learn, inform and engage with our customers and key stakeholders regarding future energy demand,” said Vince Parisi, IPL president and CEO in written comments. “We used key drivers such as economics, flexibility, optionality and grid reliability to model scenarios supporting our decision to invest in a more balanced energy mix, which minimizes risk to our customers and takes into account a rapidly-changing energy landscape.”

The utility said it would formally file the plan later this month with state regulators.

The Sierra Club hailed the Indianapolis-based utility’s announcement, but said it would push for IPL to stop using coal altogether.

“It’s good that IPL is moving to get rid of two units at this outdated, massive Super Polluter, but we can’t tiptoe our way out of the climate crisis,” Wendy Bredhold, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Indiana, said in a written statement. “Southwest Indiana’s families and children living with health impacts from the Petersburg plant need bold plans to move rapidly away from dangerous fossil fuels that are poisoning our air and water and threatening our health.”

She added: “Sierra Club and our allies will continue to push for the clean energy that Indianapolis residents demand and deserve, which must include a plan to fully retire Petersburg by 2028 and clean up its widespread toxic pollution. Anything less is a failure for our climate and our communities.”

Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, a grassroots consumer group, said it appreciated IPL’s decision to retire a portion of Petersburg’s coal-burning capacity, but added it was “disheartening” that the utility will continue burning coal at the power plant to for decades to come.

“IPL’s plan does not have the urgency to swiftly transition to clean energy that the climate crisis demands,” said Kerwin Olson, the group’s executive director.

Public officials also have been pushing for IPL to cut back on coal. In 2017, the Indianapolis City-County Council passed a resolution that called for a reduction in carbon emissions, increased energy efficiency and renewable energy use. City officials later created a plan for the city to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2050.

“The city of Indianapolis can’t reach our goals without Indianapolis Power & Light,” said a letter signed last month by 15 members or members-elect of the 25-member City-County Council.

It added: “A good and necessary first step for IPL to take in order to support the city’s goals is to go coal-free by 2028 and announce the retirement of the Petersburg Super Polluter within that timeframe during their current planning process. Furthermore, IPL should replace that coal power with renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage—not more fossil fuels.”

Mayor Joe Hogsett sent a letter to IPL on Dec. 6, asking it to use more renewable energy. “The city requests that IPL accelerate its overall renewable energy deployment goals to be better aligned with those of the city,” he wrote.

Other Indiana utilities also are moving to retire old coal-fired units. In July, Duke Energy Indiana, the state’s largest electric utility, said it wants to retire all nine of its coal-fired units by 2038 and build two large natural gas plants, along with 700 megawatts of wind energy and 1,650 megawatts of solar energy.

Several environmental groups said the utility could move faster and replace coal with renewable energy rather than other fossil-based fuels. Nearly 90% of the power Duke produced in Indiana last year was coal-fired.

Merrillville-based Northern Indiana Public Service Co. said it aims to retire four of its five remaining coal-fired electricity-generating units within five years and the other within a decade.

It plans to generate 65% of its power from solar, wind and other renewables by 2028, and at least 25% from natural gas, as it shifts toward less-costly energy sources.

Vectren Corp., owned by Houston-based CenterPoint Energy Co., plans to retire three of its four coal-burning generating units in southern Indiana by 2024. In their place, Vectren wants to substantially increase the use of natural gas as a fuel source and build a 50-megawatt solar farm, even though it is running into resistance. In April, state regulators rejected Vectren’s program to build a large, gas-fired power plant near Evansville, saying it would obligate customers for 30 years “in a time of rapid change.”

IPL has about 490,000 customers in its service territory, which is about 500 square miles in Indianapolis and surrounding areas. It is a unit of Arlington, Virginia-based AES Corp.

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