Update: The Indiana Regulatory Utility Commission on Wednesday morning rejected Vectren's proposed gas plant. Utility Dive's original story follows.
- A plan to save uneconomic coal generation appears to have failed in the Indiana legislature, despite the lobbying work of former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.
- Pruitt was hired by a coal mining company to push language into the state budget that would prevent Indiana utilities from replacing coal plants with gas and renewables. That language is not in the latest budget, however, and the Speaker of the Indiana house told the Associated Press it would likely not be inserted.
- Indiana utility regulators could put that transition in motion April 24 by approving a new $900 million gas plant for Vectren, meant to replace retiring coal. Lawmakers could also wrap up the legislative session today by passing the budget proposal.
Even a last-minute appeal from a former EPA Administrator appears unlikely to halt the energy transition in Indiana.
Vectren and the Northern Indiana Public Service Co. plan to retire nearly all their remaining coal generation before 2030 and replace it with less expensive power from gas, wind and solar.
Coal miner Hallador Energy said this week it hired Pruitt to throw on the brakes. The company said utilities are making coal retirement decisions based on EPA pollution regulations that are now being rolled back, and wanted lawmakers to prevent utility regulators from approving new investments that could be affected by rule changes.
"[The utilities'] argument is that no one knows what the new rules will look like so we should hurry and make permanent decisions today," Hallador said in a Sunday release. "Who better than Scott Pruitt to aid the Indiana legislature on what Trump energy policy will look like?"
The company said it would seek support from Indiana business interests like the Chamber of Commerce who helped defeat a similar power plant moratorium earlier this month, also aimed at saving coal plants. But on Wednesday, the Indiana chapter panned the Pruitt push, which Hallador mounted through a subsidiary it called Rail Point.
"Not one person we've talked to or heard from — except for Scott Pruitt and Rail Point — thinks the moratorium will benefit ratepayers," Indiana Chamber of Commerce CEO Kevin Brinegar said in a release. "The new language and explanation provided by Pruitt did not sway our energy policy committee (comprised of representatives of member companies from around the state) or our thinking that the moratorium is simply a bad idea."
NIPSCO and Vectren did not respond to requests for comment on the Hallador lobbying, but both utilities are sticking with their plans. NIPSCO told E&E News Monday its plans are "squarely focused on economics and cost savings for our customers," and Vectren could get regulatory approval soon for the largest part of its transition plan.
The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is scheduled to release an order on Docket No. 45052, Vectren's proposal to build a $900 million gas plant, during its next open meeting on April 24. The plant is meant to replace power from three retiring coal generators and is slated to be built at the site of the AB Brown coal plant, which Vectren would retire.