- NiSource anticipates the remaining coal units of its R.M. Schahfer Generating Station will be retired by the end of 2025, announcing a delay during its first quarter earnings call Wednesday, based on the potential solar project impacts of the U.S. Department of Commerce's anti-dumping investigation.
- The two units of the Schahfer plant total 847 MW and were initially meant to be retired by May 2023, replaced with solar projects in 2022 and 2023, according to NiSource's utility subsidiary, Northern Indiana Public Service (NIPSCO). The company expects to remain on track with retiring the single unit at Michigan City Generating Station by 2028.
- U.S. solar developers have been decrying the Commerce investigation for bringing uncertainty and delays into the solar panel market, potentially affecting imports from key exporters to the U.S.: Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. One of the largest developers in the nation, NextEra Energy, estimated 2.1 to 2.8 GW of solar and storage projects expected in 2022 may be delayed to the following year as suppliers wait for a decision by the Commerce Department.
Solar developers were quick to protest the Commerce investigation prompted by an anti-dumping and circumvention petition by California-based manufacturer Auxin Solar into U.S. imports from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia that could contain parts made in China, which are subject to tariffs.
In addition to NextEra Energy, other utilities have noted delays in their respective renewable development plans. Last week, Southern Company announced 1 GW of solar projects would be delayed based on the petition, according to Reuters.
"Several utilities have reported that their projects are in jeopardy, and the news that broke today about NIPSCO keeping two coal plants open because of this case is a telling indication of what is happening now," Dan Whitten, vice president of public affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association, said.
Solar projects originally scheduled for completion in 2022 and 2023 could experience six to 18 months of delays, NiSource said.
"NiSource is working with its renewable generation developers to better understand the potential project impacts," the company said in its quarterly earnings statement. Other utilities, including NextEra, have also made similar comments, remaining optimistic about negotiating different supply streams as a larger customer.
NiSource expects to make $2 billion of capital investments in renewable projects largely between 2022 and 2024, with some plans happening in 2025.
The company says it has flexibility in the timing of other gas and electric infrastructure capital investments to compensate for solar generation project delays.
Solar advocacy groups have petitioned the Commerce Department to resolve the investigation quickly with a negative determination. Following the industry push, a group of 22 senators has written to the Commerce Department asking for an expedited investigation. A draft conclusion could come at the end of this summer with a final determination early in 2023, according to Commerce.
On Monday, the Commerce Department published a memo on the case, offering an additional opportunity to provide comments by May 9.
In the memo, staff said solar cells and modules may be completed and assembled in multiple third-party countries using numerous inputs from China. For example, "[polysilicon] wafers produced outside of China with polysilicon sourced from China are not subject to these circumvention inquiries."
Despite those concerns, other utilities are proceeding with new requests for proposals (RFP) for clean energy resources. Dominion Energy Virginia is seeking 1,200 MW of solar and onshore wind, and Hawaiian Electric (HECO) is seeking at least 425 MW by 2027 in recent RFPs.
"Like the rest of the industry, we’re hopeful the investigation will conclude quickly and disruption to the market and to pricing can be minimal. We’re assuming developers with experience in a number of renewable technologies, including solar, will be very interested in responding to our procurement effort," Jim Kelly, HECO spokesperson, said in an email.