It’s not often at the Statehouse that special interest groups representing utilities, businesses, environmentalists and consumers unite on the same side of legislation—and certainly not on a bill that is controversial.
But Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, made it happen when he introduced House Bill 1414, which would prohibit utilities from shutting down coal-fired power plants without approval from state regulators.
Soliday says the electric industry’s move away from coal—and to natural gas and greener energies like solar—have led coal mines to close at an alarming rate, which he argues puts 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, and plans are in place to phase out some of those. 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.
Soliday says that is a problem.
But 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 oppose the bill. They argue it would interfere with market forces, including cheaper costs of fuel and the falling costs of green technology.
We’re with the opponents.
We think HB 1414 is a bad idea, even in its amended form, which will sunset the restrictions in 2021.
For decades, the electricity industry was almost completely dependent on coal—and Indiana even more so than most. In fact, Indiana is among the top five states in the share of its electricity that is generated from coal, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
As recently as 2014, coal-fired power plants provided about 85% of Indiana’s electricity generation. By 2018, that percentage had fallen to 70%, and it is expected to drop rapidly as additional companies take their coal-fired plants offline.
Utilities are making the switch to other alternatives, including natural gas and solar, because they are cheaper and cleaner. Those are positive changes for Indiana economically—in both the sheer cost of power and the potential for improvements in health that come from cleaner air.
We understand the concern about coal mining, once a vital industry in southern Indiana. And we can support programs to help miners who lose their jobs transition to other fields.
We don’t say that lightly. We acknowledge that it is not easy for people who have spent their entire careers earning a good wage working in the mines to suddenly retrain for jobs that will likely provide smaller paychecks in economically struggling rural areas of the state.
But propping up the industry is the wrong move. The market forces that are moving power companies away from coal are understandable and predictable. This is not a place for government intervention.•
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