Sierra Club — “Duke Energy to retire coal plants by 2038; critics say utility should move faster”

John Russell, Indianapolis Business Journal, July 3, 2019
Under Duke Energy’s new plan, its Edwardsport coal to gas plant, which began operation in June 2013, would continue to operate until 2045.

Duke Energy Indiana, the state’s largest electric utility, says it wants to retire its aging fleet of coal-fired generating units and replace it with cleaner, more renewable sources of energy.

The big question: How fast can it make the transition?

The answer: Apparently, not nearly as fast as some other Indiana utilities.

In plans filed this month with state regulators, Duke Energy said it wants to keep most of its coal-fired plants in Indiana running through much of the next decade, while it gradually invests in wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.

By 2038, the company said, it hopes to retire all nine of its coal-fired units and build two large natural-gas plants.

“We view this as the beginning of our transition to a more nimble, diversified fleet,” Stan Pinegar, president of Duke Energy Indiana, told IBJ.

But environmentalists say Duke is dragging its feet. They point to other Indiana utilities that are moving faster to retire old, dirty, coal-fired units, which spew carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the sky. They say Duke Energy should be pushing harder to go green.

“Duke’s plan is exceptionally disappointing,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana.

Every three years, all electric utilities in Indiana are required to file 20-year plans that lay out where they will get their power. 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—known as integrated resource plans—are road maps that tell the public how the companies plan to make big investments in coming decades.

Duke Energy filed its integrated resource plan July 1 with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. It also telegraphed its intentions in advance in slideshows on its website and in community meetings around the state. The company said its plans balance the demands of customers, government rules and environmentalists.

“There’s pressures on all sides with respect to this kind of planning,” Pinegar said. “But, you know, we have stakeholders who think we’re moving too fast; we have stakeholders who think we’re moving too slow. It’s a balancing act.”

Nearly 90% of the power Duke Energy produced in Indiana last year was coal-fired. Under its new lineup, however, that dependence will lessen over time. Retirement plans target two coal-fired units at Cayuga Station in Vermillion County by 2028, all five coal-fired units at the Gibson Station in Gibson County from 2026 to 2034, and both coal-fired units at its Gallagher Station in Floyd County by 2022.

As Indiana’s biggest provider of electricity, Duke Energy is attracting plenty of notice; it operates a sprawling fleet and serves 840,000 electric customers in 69 of Indiana’s 92 counties.

That includes suburban areas near Indianapolis, Louisville and Cincinnati, along with the cities of Bloomington, Terre Haute and Lafayette.

In some cases, the company would retire the coal units several years earlier than previously planned. But even so, many would continue to run for more than a decade—with three of them running for another 15 years or more.

To replace its coal fleet, Duke Energy proposes to build two 1,240-megawatt natural-gas generating units, one in Vermillion County and another at a site to be determined.

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