It’s rare when environmentalists, politicians and utility companies agree on anything, but all sides seem to support NIPSCO’s decision to shut down its coal-fired generating stations.
“The retirement of all of NIPSCO’s coal-fired power plants by 2028 and replacement of all capacity with renewables, energy efficiency and demand management is an unprecedented commitment in Indiana to a forward-looking plan that benefits ratepayers, reduces carbon emissions, and improves the long-term health of the region,” said Steve Francis, chair of the energy committee for the Sierra Club’s Hoosier Chapter.
On Wednesday, Northern Indiana Public Service Company announced it will close its remaining coal-burning power plants within 10 years – four units at the Schahfer plant Wheatfield by 2023, and the Michigan City plant by 2028.
As part of its “future electric supply planning process, analysis shows the most viable option for customers would include moving up the retirement of a majority of its remaining coal-fired generation in the next five years and all coal within the next 10 years,” NIPSCO president Violet Sistovaris said in the announcement.
“This creates a vision for the future that is better for our customers and it’s consistent with our goal to transition to the best cost, cleanest electric supply mix available while maintaining reliability, diversity and flexibility for technology and market changes,” she said.
“In ten years time, Michigan City will have the incredible opportunity to restore the Indiana Dunes to their rightful place as the unspoiled gem of our region with connected beaches, restored duneland and increased public access,” said Victoria Wittig, project coordinator at Save the Dunes. “NIPSCO is clearly a forward-thinking energy company; the days of coal are over and a brighter future awaits with renewables.”
NIPSCO said the plan would save customers $4.3 billion over running those plants through 2035.
La’Tonya Troutman of the Sierra Club’s Northwest Indiana Beyond Coal Campaign, said, “NIPSCO’s announcement to retire coal is an important first step towards environmental justice; however, we must ensure NIPSCO meets all the demands of the communities they serve, and are not making profit a priority over the people.”
Gary Brown, president of the Izaak Walton League of Porter County, said, “Thank you NIPSCO if you close the Michigan City plant” and “recognize it’s been polluting our air for decades, even if the reason is economics, rather than environmental.”
State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage), whose district includes Michigan City, issued a statement saying, “I am glad that NIPSCO and the industry acknowledge the fact that coal-fired power plants are going the way of the dinosaur.
“This is great news for the environment as coal energy spews out dirty air and water pollutants, and the move will only make Northwest Indiana a better place to live and work. I look forward to seeing the land at the Michigan City plant utilized as part of the Marquette Greenway plan, as it offers an ideal area on the shore of Lake Michigan.”
“This is pretty important news for Michigan City, and I see it as a positive,” Mayor Ron Meer said. “For future generations of residents, that whole lakefront could be opened up.”
While the plan drew acclaim from all sides, some concerns were expressed, including proper cleanup of the site.
The Sierra Club said while closing the plant will be a boost for the environment, it must be done in a responsible way.
The group wants NIPSCO to “prepare a cleanup and recovery plan for communities that establishes a course for the safe, steadfast and equitable decommissioning of coal ash ponds as well as reclamation of coal plant and lakefront property for other uses as determined by the community,” Francis said.
The utility must “create a process that is participatory, inclusive and justice-driven, while implementing their plan. This must involve public meetings that are led by and within the communities most impacted by NIPSCO’s pollution, particularly low-income communities and urban communities.”
NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer indicated that would happen.
“We expect there to be considerable interest in the future development and use of the Michigan City site from within the community and beyond,” he said. “And while no decisions have been made, we would intend to work with the community on future plans.”
Amy Grappone, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Todd Young, said, “The senator is aware of NIPSCO’s recent announcement. He looks forward to reviewing additional details as they work towards submitting their final plan to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission on Nov. 1.”
Another concern was loss of jobs.
“I do lament the loss of jobs that may come from closing the plants but hope the loss can be mitigated by placements to other facilities,” Tallian said.
Troutman said the Beyond Coal Campaign “will work to ensure that NIPSCO will do the hard work of planning these retirements in a way that … helps transition workers.”
NIPSCO must “prepare a just transition for the impacted workers that includes comprehensive job training opportunities in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. These jobs and the renewable energy generated should be locally sourced,” she said.
Meer said there will still be jobs. “You can’t just eliminate that much electric generation. There has to be something to replace it and there have to be new jobs.”
NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer, asked about jobs, said, “From an employee standpoint, it’s still early and our focus will be on ensuring reliability for customers and limiting the impact on our employees through any future transition.”
The final plan must also address “projected job losses and cleaning up coal ash pits at NIPSCO’s existing and decommissioned coal plant sites,” Troutman said. “So while the modeling presentation shows us NIPSCO’s viable plan, they must also work on steps needed to aid communities impacted by years of degradation,” Troutman said.
Brown said closing the plant will be the easy part.
“If it was only so easy to remove the coal ash ponds or landfills of waste. We’d like to see renewable solar and wind generation. We’d also like NIPSCO to stop lobbying against credits for businesses, consumers, or even schools who would like to invest in those sources.”
He said Izaak Walton-Porter County thanks NIPSCO “for grants for conservation projects for wetland restoration, and for cooperation in habitats for butterflies, bats and migrating birds. Small steps. Big steps.
“Last we heard, there are peregrine falcons nesting on the M.C. plant smokestack. Nature never stops trying to overcome what humans put in their way.”