I came to my work as Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Indiana because of my concern about the health impacts of the poor air quality in our region due to the high concentration of coal-fired power plants. Indeed, in 2016 the Center for Public Integrity in cooperation with the Weather Channel and USA Today identified the Evansville area as the highest concentration of Super Polluter coal plants in the US.
Posey and Gibson county residents are at particular risk. Just a few years ago, Posey failed to meet critical clean air standards for harmful sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution from Vectren’s AB Brown coal plant. That plant’s coal ash pit has for decades leached into groundwater and threatened the Ohio River. Gibson County is home to Duke Energy’s Gibson Super Polluter, the fourth-largest coal plant in the country, and one of the country’s most toxic coal plants and largest sources of greenhouse gases. Its coal ash pit is also steeping in groundwater and impacting the Wabash River. Additionally, according to the Oil and Gas Threat Map, Posey and Gibson are the only Indiana counties with a cancer risk in the highest 10% due to proximity to oil and gas operations.
But in Indiana as across the country, we are seeing a transition away from coal, and increasingly it is a transition away from fossil fuels, including gas, to renewable energy as wind and solar become cheaper. Vectren announced retirement of all but one of its coal units including AB Brown in 2016. Indiana Michigan Power announced this year it will retire half of the Rockport plant and Duke announced one unit of the Gibson plant. Indianapolis Power & Light may announce 1-4 units of the Petersburg plant for retirement at the conclusion of their planning process in December. In Northwest Indiana, NIPSCO will replace all of its coal generation with renewables, energy efficiency and energy storage, and save customers $4 billion.
Now Posey and Gibson counties have an opportunity to bring a wind farm to our region. And yet decision-makers who have said yes and yes again to polluters who gave us cancer, asthma, respiratory and cardiac diseases, who have made Posey and Gibson two of the most polluted counties in Indiana and our region a sacrifice zone, seem ready to say no to clean energy that could be used to power our homes and businesses and benefit the local economy.
Earlier this year, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission rejected Vectren’s plan to build a gas plant. Now, Vectren is in the midst of their planning process, and has issued an all-sources request for proposals. The company proposing the Posey/Gibson wind project has bid into that process. Posey and Gibson counties could be producing clean energy for our own homes and businesses if the project goes forward. But by zoning out or refusing renewable energy investments, Posey and Gibson run the risk of being left behind in a very real, very immediate energy transition.
Energy is changing. The climate is changing. We must change.
– Wendy Bredhold