Activists criticize Vectren plan to keep 1 coal-fired plant

A utility that serves about 145,000 customers in southwestern Indiana plans to close three coal-fired power plants while adding solar and wind power as part of a larger proposal that environmental groups are criticizing because it would keep one coal power plant in operation.

Posted: Jun 22, 2020 8:53 AM

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — A utility that serves about 145,000 customers in southwestern Indiana plans to close three coal-fired power plants while adding solar and wind power as part of a larger proposal that environmental groups are criticizing because it would keep one coal power plant in operation.

Vectren officials said the proposed switch will save customers an estimated $320 million over 20 years and lower carbon dioxide emissions about 75% from 2005 levels.

“It’s a cost-effective plan built on cleaner generation,” said company spokeswoman Natalie Hedde.

While Vectren will retire the two coal-fired plants at its A.B. Brown power plant in Posey County and one of the two coal units at its F.C. Culley power plant in Warrick County, there is no plan to stop using Culley's remaining 230-megawatt coal-fired generating station, said Matt Rice, the company’s manager of resource planning.

That power station is fully equipped with pollution controls for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate pollution, Rice said.

Environmental advocates are disappointed that the utility intends to continue burning coal at the Culley plant, while adding 460 megawatts of natural gas generated power generation capacity, the Evansville Courier & Press reported.

The Sierra Club and other groups want Vectren to switch entirely to renewable energy.

Melissa Williams, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said continuing to operate the Culley coal-fired generating station keeps Vectren customers on the hook for the high cost of maintaining that aging plant, which opened in 1973.

The details of Vectren’s plans are part of its preferred portfolio of energy generation sources over the next 20 years, which was made public as it develops its latest Integrated Resource Plan. Indiana law requires utilities to update those plans every three years, with public input, to detail how much electricity each thinks it will need and how that power will be generated.

Wendy Bredhold, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said Vectren indicated in its presentation that there’s high customer demand for renewable energy

“Instead Vectren chose to continue to burn coal and build new gas plants that will become stranded assets at some point in the not too distant future,” she said, adding that the utility’s plan “simply does not meet the demands of the day.”

Vectren will file its plan with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission on June 30 and there will be an opportunity for public comment, said Jason Stephenson, Vectren’s vice president and general counsel. The commission must approve individual components of the plan.

Hedde, the utility's spokeswoman, said Vectren’s analysis showed that its choice of power generation portfolios was the most cost-effective over the next 20 years.

“The renewable piece is certainly what we are going to lead with,” she said.

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