NIPSCO

File photo

NIPSCO’s Schahfer Generating Station in Wheatfield as it appeared in 2011.

The Northern Indiana Publicity Service Company (NIPSCO) issued a press release on Wednesday, Sept. 19, disclosing tentative plans to close all four of its generating stations at the Schahfer Plant in Wheatfield by 2023, and not just the two originally planned.

Jasper County Assessor Dawn Hoffman notably approached the County Commissioners several weeks ago with an important warning about the NIPSCO plant, when just two stations were scheduled to be shut down. Those two alone were set to cause a potential, massive tax increase after 2023, exceeding the state’s tax cap limit.

The county was originally forecast to receive a tax increase of as much as nine percent if only two of the generating stations closed. The potential closure of the other two now doubles this concern. 

NIPSCO's Plans

Representatives from NIPSCO recently held a meeting on Wednesday to discuss its potential plans with other groups. Described as a "20-year planning meeting," it took place in the vicinity of Fair Oaks Farms.

“While not yet final, NIPSCO outlined the option for its electric generation strategy at a public meeting with customers, consumers, representatives, environmental organizations and other stakeholders taking part in the company’s Integrated Resource Planning process,” the company stated on Wednesday.

NIPSCO also stated that “the company has been — and will continue — working with stakeholders and regulators to solicit further input to aid in formulating its final plan, which the company plans to submit to the Indiana Regulatory Commission by [Monday] Nov. 1, 2018.”

NIPSCO President Violet Sistovaris stated that the planning process will create “a vision for the future that is better for our customers and it’s consistent with our goal to transition to the best cost, cleanest electric supply mix available while maintaining reliability, diversity and flexibility for technology and market changes.”

The company’s timeline currently shows “the expected retirement of its R.M. Schahfer Generating Station (Units 14, 15, 17 and 18) located in Wheatfield, Ind. no later than 2023.” The company further stated that its Michigan City Generating Station is also expected to close by 2028.

NIPSCO stated the closure means that approximately 1,800 megawatts of coal-fired generation will be retired, which the company said is meant to “significantly accelerate carbon reduction across the NIPSCO footprint and will result in further reductions, both in timing and magnitude, beyond previously announced targets.”

Nick Meyer, NIPSCO’s Director of External Communications, stated that the company will be relying on other sources, such as solar power and/or wind power to help make up for the tentative retirement of the stations, along with reserve battery power.

NIPSCO stated that more information about its electric supply strategies and the IRP process can be found at NIPSCO.com/IRP.

Environmental concerns

The company’s decisions to retire the generating stations are apparently tied to pressure from environmental protection groups. 

The Sierra Club, which has described itself as "America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3 million members and supporters," was in contact with those present during Wednesday's meeting. The club recently stated that NIPSCO's presentations during the meeting constituted "a plan to retire its last remaining coal-burning power plants within 10 years and replace them with renewable energy in Northwest Indiana."

The club further stated that community members shared a video montage that depicted "NIPSCO customer concerns which still must be addressed in the company’s transition plan."

"NIPSCO revealed that, based on their modeling, the most-viable option for serving electric customers would be to retire the Schahfer Super Polluter coal-burning power plant by 2023 and the Michigan City coal plant in 2028, noting that it is less expensive than keeping those plants running -- saving customers $4.3 billion over running those plants through 2035," the club stated.

Steve Francis, Chairperson of the Energy Committee for the Sierra Club’s Hoosier Chapter, called the move "an unprecedented commitment in Indiana to a forward-looking plan that benefits ratepayers, reduces carbon emissions, and improves the long term health of the region."

"In recognizing the need to address pollution concerns in the next decade, we will continue to engage thoroughly in this process," he said.

According to the club, NIPSCO's modeling also showed that "renewable energy and energy efficiency are the best option to replace fossil fuels in all their retirement scenarios ... NIPSCO officials indicated they also plan to keep their existing gas power plant in West Terre Haute for at least 20 years."

“NIPSCO’s announcement to retire coal is an important first step towards environmental justice; however, we must ensure NIPSCO meets all the demands of the communities they serve, and are not making profit a priority over the people," said La’Tonya Troutman, local volunteer for the Sierra Club’s Northwest Indiana Beyond Coal Campaign. 

The Beyond Coal Campaign has notably been holding community conversations on the topic as recently as last weekend, north of Jasper County.  

Troutman added that, "while the modeling presentation shows us NIPSCO’s viable plan, they must also work on steps needed to aid communities impacted by years of degradation.”

The campaign's full demands for NIPSCO include the following:

1. Create a process that is participatory, inclusive and justice-driven while implementing their plan.

2. Prepare a cleanup and recovery plan for communities that establishes a course for the safe, steadfast and equitable decommissioning of NIPSCO’s coal ash ponds as well as reclamation of coal plant and lakefront property for other uses as determined by the community.

3. Prepare a just transition for the impacted workers that includes comprehensive job training opportunities in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.

Troutman concluded by stating, “We will continue to advocate for communities all around the region who have expressed serious concerns with NIPSCO’s two coal-burning power plants. We will work to ensure that NIPSCO will do the hard work of planning these retirements in a way that listens to public concerns, helps transition workers, and cleans up and restores communities negatively impacted by their historic pollution.”

The county's response

After Wednesday's meeeting, Stephen Eastridge, Executive Director of the Jasper County Economic Development Organization, stated that the organization had spoken with NIPSCO about the decision.

"This decision was a part of [NIPSCO's] regular electric supply planning process - referred to as the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP)- which, has determined that the most cost-effective and feasible option for NIPSCO customers is to accelerate the retirement of coal-fired generation in the next five years," the JCEDO stated. "... This unfortunate development in the future of the R.M Schahfer Generating Station in Jasper County is a blow to our communities and tax payers; however, NIPSCO has determined that the most viable option moving forward is renewable energy systems."

The organization said it is now attempting to determine what the best path forward is for county investment, noting that "we are fortunate to have renewables in the pipeline - both prospective solar and wind developments."

"We have had the pleasure of working with NIPSCO and their team over the lifetime of the Schahfer Generating Station and are grateful for their many contributions to our community" Eastridge said. "We are disappointed in this news, but understand that the power generating industry is moving towards renewable energy alternatives."

Anyone seeking more information from the JCEDO is encouraged to call (219) 866-3080, or send a fax to (219) 866-3010.

The Rensselaer Republican will have more information as this story develops.

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