Although happy Vectren is open to renewable energy in its hunt for new power sources, some consumer and environmental advocates are skeptical of the way the utility is seeking bidders.
Six organizations — among them Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, Sierra Club and Valley Watch — sent the utility a letter last week raising concerns that Vectren did not give an opportunity to comment on its request for proposals and questioning its timing.
The groups also were critical of the way Vectren said it will evaluate submitted projects and asked the company to reconsider parts of the already published request for proposals, which is the formal method for soliciting bids.
“It just instills a level of integrity and honesty into the process. I think they have really missed out on a chance to participate in a meaningful discussion with stakeholders,” said Jennifer Washburn, legal counsel with the Citizens Action Coalition.
However, Vectren spokeswoman Natalie Hedde said the company does not intend to make any changes.
She countered that the utility has received input into the process, some dating as far back as late last year, and that interested parties could have made suggestions at any time.
“They knew we were going to be issuing a request for proposals. All of our stakeholders know we are on a three-year planning cycle. We tried our best to incorporate those suggestions,” Hedde said. “We feel pretty confident that we have used all of the provided input.”
With Vectren’s planned 850-megawatt natural gas-fueled power plant rejected by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission in April, the utility has relaunched its search for power sources to replace its current coal-burning plants.
Now part of Houston-Texas-based CenterPoint Energy, Vectren has issued an “all-source” request for proposals to provide up to 700 megawatts of energy generating capacity.
Vectren had planned to close its A.B. Brown plant in Posey County and most of its F.C. Culley plant in Warrick County by 2023 and replace them with new power generation sources.
The results of the search for those energy sources could be included in Vectren’s newest Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which Indiana law requires utilities to update every three years with input from the public. The evolving 20-year plans look into how much electricity each utility thinks it will need and where it will come from, but the plans are not binding.
On Monday, company officials said the utility received more than 30 notices of intent to bid. Actual bids are due by July 31 but will be limited to those companies which gave notice by a June 27 deadline
Washburn said the way Vectren plans to score bids for evaluation could actually work against renewable energy providers. That is because Vectren said it intends to award more points to projects it can control and possibly own, as well as those located in Southern Indiana.
However, Washburn said many wind and solar energy providers contract to provide energy through power purchase agreements and may not be located in the same area as the purchaser.
In their letter to Vectren, advocates worried that many of the proposed projects might never receive any level of public scrutiny: “We are concerned that many cost-effective projects will be weeded out before they even have the chance to be evaluated in an IRP framework.”
“There is certainly a place for power purchase agreements, and we will evaluate all of those,” Hedde said.
She said having control over its power generation assets will give Vectren flexibility to meet the ups and downs of demand and give the company more say in maintaining reliability.
Advocates point to the Northern Indiana Public Service Company’s recently completed planning process as a model of public and stakeholder participation, noting that participants were given advance input and even able to view additional details after signing non-disclosure agreements.
NIPSCO concluded that it would move from coal to wind and solar generation for its power — a purely economic decision driven by analysis that showed it would save $4 billion over the next 30 years.
Vectren will hold a series of four public stakeholder meetings to solicit public participation in its latest IRP beginning in August.
The utility plans to file its IRP in May 2020.