INDIANAPOLIS (AP): A group of state lawmakers and energy experts has approved a new state energy report outlining how Indiana should proceed at a time when electric utilities are seeing a big shift from coal to renewable energy sources.
The 21st Century Energy Task Force, formed by Indiana’s General Assembly during the 2019 legislative session, voted Thursday to pass its final recommendations after months of testimony.
But some task force members and consumer advocates criticized the recommendations as being so vague they could give a shield to lawmakers to pass legislation favorable to the state’s struggling coal industry.
The 15-member panel is recommending that the General Assembly pass a law that would create a mechanism to be used by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission “to assure generation and transmission resource adequacy throughout Indiana.” Another recommendation calls for a law that would set forth “specific metrics and goals” for generation capacity and reliability.
Neither recommendation, however, gave specifics on how such laws would address the dramatic shift by utilities from coal to cleaner sources of energy such as wind and solar power.
Task force member Rep. Matt Pierce, a Bloomington Democrat, said several of the recommendations were too vague to support and could lead to legislation some lawmakers say the task force blessed.
“We haven’t laid out in a specific way what these metrics should be or even the parameters for them,” Pierce said.
Rep. Ed Soliday, a Valparaiso Republican and the task force’s co-chair, said the legislation has already been drafted on both recommendations, but he did not give specifics.
The panel’s report is not binding and it’s still up to the Indiana legislature to put it into action. The task force includes members of both houses of the legislature, along with academics, the state’s utility consumer counselor, and utility advocates.
While the panel has encouraged renewables — emphasizing that renewable energy is important to keep Indiana competitive in attracting and retaining certain businesses — it also wants to keep fossil fuels around.
Electricity affordability and reliability is a huge issue in Indiana, which is the nation’s most manufacturing-intensive state. Steelmakers, automakers, retail superstores and other large customers consume massive amounts of electricity every day.
In recent years, large Indiana utilities have announced plans to shutter thousands of megawatts of coal-fired generating capacity in favor of cheaper fuel sources, such as natural gas, solar, and wind.
Some consumer advocates contend the report’s language could lead to controversial mechanisms recently passed in Illinois and Ohio that bailed out struggling power plants.
“We fear it opens the door to a bailout of Indiana’s coal fleet, or at a minimum, it could extend the life of uneconomic coal plants which should be retired now,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana.
The Indiana Energy Association, a trade group representing five investor-owned utilities, said it looked forward to working with lawmakers to address the findings and recommendations. The group said those include initiatives to “keep Indiana competitive in attracting and retaining businesses” and encouraging renewable energy resources without “compromising the reliability and affordability of electric utility service.”
“We’ll continue to work with the state legislature on policies that support these goals,” said Danielle McGrath, the group’s president.