Robert Turner: As winter nears, state must protect reliable coal energy

Keywords Opinion / Viewpoint
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Year after year, Indiana requires more energy to deliver our same basic standard of heat and electricity. Now more than ever, Indiana needs reliable sources of energy to keep our children fed and our lights on.

Unfortunately, we face the real possibility of blackouts this winter, despite being one of the most energy-rich states in the country. We should not have to worry about basic energy needs, but this is becoming our new normal since Indiana is transitioning away from coal too quickly.

Indiana has long been a leader of energy abundance for one reason: coal. Although we have only 1.5% of the country’s coal reserves, we remain the eighth-largest coal producer in the United States. Over 50% of Indiana’s electricity comes from coal, and we need more of it, not less. Indiana is the third-largest coal consumer, behind only Texas and Missouri.

Other sources of energy cannot reliably meet our energy demands. Solar and wind account for only 10% of Indiana’s energy mix despite massive investments. Renewables are not yet advanced enough to store energy, so they will inevitably fail when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow for long periods. While renewable energy will continue to be an important supplement in our energy mix, the technology simply remains too expensive and unreliable to meet Indiana’s increasing demand for energy.

Natural gas has offset most of Indiana’s reduction in coal consumption over the past decade. However, natural gas is not as reliable as coal. For instance, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, a premier transmission operator essential to providing energy to Indiana, has repeatedly warned of the unreliability of natural gas in extreme weather conditions.

Despite these concerns, Indiana’s utilities are turning away from coal at a dangerous pace. Based on what has been announced, we are on track to stop burning coal in 12 years, even though alternatives are nowhere near ready to meet demand.

It is nearly impossible to build a power plant in today’s permitting environment. As energy demand is increasing and we are struggling to meet the current demand, we should not be retiring any generation. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission must do more to stop premature coal plant closures in Indiana.

The IURC should have full authority to permit or deny power plant closures in the state since they have a vested interest in promoting grid reliability in Indiana. This way, Indiana can achieve an “all of the above” approach to energy, ensuring that Hoosiers have the energy they need to keep their homes warm and lights on this winter.•

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Turner is president of Express Restorations and founder of Turntek LLC.

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