I have posted before about the Indiana Legislature’s rear-guard effort to protect the increasingly obsolescent coal industry.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed a bill preventing Indiana utilities from switching from coal to cleaner, cheaper energy. The bill effectively blocked utilities in Indiana from closing any coal-fired power plant unless the closure had been mandated by the Trump administration – something that would never happen, given Trump’s repeated–and increasingly empty– promises to “bring back coal.”
The bill did contain one exception: a coal plant could be closed if the utility owning it could “prove” to state utility commissioners that it would be in the public interest. Even that exception was framed to provide coal companies opposed to the closure a mechanism to drag the issue through the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and the courts. That would cost utilities and ratepayers huge sums of money and further delay the transition to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
Indiana thus joined the rearguard action against the market forces that are making renewables and natural gas cheaper than coal. (So much for the vaunted Republican respect for the market.). A Democratic legislator memorably offered a snarky amendment to the bill that would have protected whale oil, too.
The state did convene a commission to study the situation, and that body has now issued its recommendations.
According to the IBJ,
Seven months after Indiana lawmakers passed a bill prohibiting utilities from shutting down coal-fired power plants before May 2021, a state energy task force is considering a sweeping array of measures that seem to favor existing large-scale utilities, many of which still burn coal, over providers of renewable energy.
The Indiana 21st Century Energy Policy Development Task Force, which was set up to guide lawmakers in crafting a long-term energy plan, released draft recommendations Wednesday after months of testimony.
Consumer advocates and environmental groups both sharply criticized the draft recommendations, charging that they would extend the life of coal plants and delay Indiana’s transition to renewable energy.
The draft didn’t include any recommendations on energy efficiency, net metering or on-site generation.
“The Task Force should resoundingly reject this draft report,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana. “It completely ignores substantial testimony given throughout the process and dismisses the current business plans Indiana utilities already have on file.”
A longer article from the Indianapolis Star included criticisms from the academic members of the commission and others who were especially concerned with the substantial areas of vagueness in the recommendations.
The vote to accept the draft report broke down along partisan lines, with the Democrats voting against and the Republicans voting to accept the draft.
It is notable that the Chair of the Commission, Ed Soliday, was the author of the above-referenced bill slowing the transition from coal (the “save whale oil” bill). Citizens Action Coalition, among others, gives him poor marks for consumer protection, and Follow the Money lists substantial contributions he has received from utilities, coal, mining, oil, natural gas, steel, and environmental services & equipment.
Welcome to Indiana.
A historian friend of mine once characterized Indiana’s political culture as “quid pro quo.” Another friend–the late and much-lamented NUVO editor Harrison Ullmann– called the Indiana General Assembly “the world’s worst legislature.” (In all fairness, he didn’t live to see the U.S. Senate under the control of the vile Mitch McConnell.) It’s no wonder we share the distinction of being one of the 10 least environmentally friendly states with the likes of Kentucky and West Virginia.
But then, we rank near the bottom on all sorts of indices. Health, education, quality of life. And thanks to gerrymandering, those “good ole boys” who exemplify Indiana’s “quid pro quo” political culture fully intend to keep it that way.