Sierra Club, “Last chance for public comment on Vectren’s search for new power sources”

Mark Wilson, Evansville Courier & Press, December 9, 2019

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Vectren representatives say the utility will soon share the lowest cost mix of power generation sources to emerge from its latest long-range planning process.

Matt Rice, the company’s manager of resource planning, cautioned the portfolio of energy generating sources is still a draft. It will not yet include bid information from a recent request for proposals to provide energy generation.

However, it will provide the public a glimpse into results from the modeling process Vectren is using to develop its newest Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).

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 considered binding. 

Vectren will hold the third in a series of public meetings on the process 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday in its offices on Riverside Drive in Downtown Evansville. People interested in attending can register online at vectren.com/irp.

Final results from the modeling process will be shared at a meeting on March 19. These results will include more than a dozen different portfolios for energy generation with risk analysis of each, Rice said. 

Vectren plans to file its IRP in May 2020.

The utility had planned to retire nearly all of its coal-fired generating stations by 2023, including 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 a single natural-gas fueled power plant.

Consumer and environmental advocates criticized it as unnecessarily large and simply swapping one source of carbon emissions for another. In April, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission rejected it.

Regulators said Vectren should have given more consideration to combinations of other less expensive alternatives and that the company did not seriously look at renewable energy options.

So as part of its current IRP process, the utility, now part of Houston, Texas-based CenterPoint Energy, put out a request for proposals to provide up to 700 megawatts of energy-generating capacity from all sources.

Vectren received 100 proposals from 22 companies. Renewable energy, especially solar and wind, accounted for more than half of those generation sources.

Both of Vectren’s coal-burning power plants are in need of millions of dollars of upgrades and pollution controls, making retaining them an expensive option.

Last fall the Northern Indiana Public Service Company announced, as part of its own IRP, that it would switch its power generation from coal to wind and solar and said the decision was an economic one. NIPSCO’s analysis showed it would save $4 billion over the next 30 years.

Partially as a result, other Indiana utilities are under even more scrutiny than usual from both environmental advocates and energy sector insiders.

Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL), which operates a coal-fired plant in Petersburg, Indiana, revealed its preferred mix of energy generation sources on Monday as part of its own long-range planning process.

It would replace two of the four coal-burning generating units, most likely with clean energy sources, by 2023. Similar to Vectren, there will be an all-source request for proposals to replace it with other means of energy generation.

IPL said Monday it believes that will be a combination of wind, solar and energy storage options. That is similar to the majority of proposals Vectren has received.

However, what IPL plans to retire is less than half of the Petersburg plant’s total capacity of 1,670 megawatts. The utility is projecting it will continue burning coal in the other two generating units for another two decades as a hedge against regulatory uncertainty and to give it flexibility as it moves to clean energy sources.

As a result, IPL’s total retail sales would still overwhelmingly rely on fossil fuels, a plan which drew criticism from environmentalists Monday.

IPL spokeswoman Courtney Arango said the utility’s preferred energy portfolio would move it to a balance of 30 percent coal, 40 percent natural gas and 30 percent clean energy.

Duke Energy Indiana, which operates Gibson Station Power Plant west of Princeton, Indiana, filed a 20-year plan in July that would over time shift its power generation to natural gas, wind and solar. However, the plan’s slow timetable for the transition was criticized by consumer and environmental groups.

Wendy Bredhold, senior campaign representative covering Indiana and Kentucky for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said the group will deliver more than 500 petitions to Vectren at the Friday meeting.

The petitions call for the Vectren to develop a transition plan that replaces fossil fuels with wind, solar and energy storage options for generating and supplying power.

“We want to see Vectren’s 20-year plan to transition to 100 percent renewable energy, energy efficiency — we all know they could be a lot more robust in their approach to energy efficiency — and energy storage,” Bredhold said.

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