US President* Donald Trump powered his way through the 2016 election cycle with a promise to bring back coal jobs. That line certainly went over well in the coal-producing state of Indiana, where Trump emerged from Election Day 2016 with 56.5% of the vote, trouncing his closest rival by 19 percentage points.
Now, barely two years after Trump first took office, it looks like Indiana is setting itself up to part ways with coal power plants forever.
Wait — what?
Indiana, The “Forgotten” Coal State
Indiana doesn’t tend to pop up much when the topic turns to coal, but the state does happen to rank among the top 10 in the US for coal production. Coal also factors heavily into energy consumption in Indiana. That’s begun to change since Trump took office.
As recently as 2014, coal still accounted for 85% of electricity consumption in Indiana. In 2016, Indiana ranked third in coal consumption, after Texas and Illinois.
Predictably enough, the state’s renewable energy profile has been a little thin. Here’s the rundown from the US Energy Information Agency:
Wind power provided nearly 5% of Indiana’s electricity generation in 2017, while hydroelectricity, biomass, and solar power combined accounted for about 1% of generation.
Yikes! As of October 2018, coal was still outstripping natural gas for electricity generation by a wide margin, with renewables running a distant second.
The Winds Of Change Begin To Blow
The last two years, though, have hinted at a big change of pace for Indiana. By 2017, coal’s share of electricity generation was down to about 70%, mainly due to growth in natural gas for power generation. Now renewables are also beginning to make a strong showing.
Here’s the April 2018 update from EIA:
Eight of Indiana’s 10 largest power plants are still coal-fired, but 60% of the state’s 200 megawatts of new generation capacity that was brought on line during 2017 was powered by renewable energy sources, while the other 40% of new generation was powered by natural gas.
The other shoe dropped in September 2018, when the major Indiana utility NIPSCO announced a plan to transition out of coal power and into renewables. That dovetails with a broader carbon reduction pledge by the utility’s parent company, NiSource. NiSource plans to retire 50% of its coal generating capacity before 2024.
Our friends over at IndyStar.com got the scoop on NIPSCO’s announcement last September:
The Northern Indiana Public Service Company announced Wednesday that it will speed up the retirement of its coal-fired generation by as much as 10 years — planning to retire the majority of its remaining plants in the next five years and the entire fleet within 10.
In its place, NIPSCO is looking to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind coupled with battery storage.
If all goes according to plan, NIPSCO alone will double the existing amount of renewable energy capacity in Indiana.
So, How’s That Energy Transition Coming Along?
So far, NIPSCO has been doing just what it said. Just last Friday the company — which serves almost 500,000 ratepayers — announced that it is adding three new Indiana-based wind farms with a total capacity of 800 megawatts:
Jordan Creek – 400 megawatts, 160 turbines, developed and constructed by NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, in Benton and Warren counties, near Williamsport.
Roaming Bison – 300 megawatts, 107 turbines, developed and constructed by Apex Clean Energy in Montgomery County, near Waynetown.
Rosewater – 102 megawatts, 25 turbines, developed and constructed by EDP Renewables North America LLC in White County.
Interestingly, the Jordan Creek and Roaming Bison projects are power purchase deals, but the Rosewater project is a joint venture and ownership agreement between NIPSCO and EDP.
All three new wind farms are expected to be operable before the end of 2020, but wait, there’s more.
In a press release announcing the three new wind farms, NIPSCO let word slip that it expects more renewable energy projects to come through the pipeline later this year.
There Goes Indiana…
Anyways, that’s just NIPSCO. Another Indiana utility, Vectren, began taking a close look at its coal power plants in 2016. In a February 20, 2018 press release the company announced that its mind was made up:
Today’s plan, if approved, leads to a 60% reduction in carbon emissions by retiring three coal-fired units and exiting ownership of another: two 245- MW units at the A.B. Brown plant, a 90-MW unit at the F.B. Culley plant in Warrick County and exiting co-ownership of 150 MW of Warrick Unit 4, a unit currently co-owned with Alcoa through 2023.
That Warrick coal unit isn’t going anywhere before 2023, because Alcoa needs it to re-start operations at its nearby aluminum mill. That may be just a temporary reprieve for coal fans. Alcoa has been transitioning into renewables and has developed a carbon-free “green aluminum” process. Apparently the system has not been scaled up in time for the re-start, but it may be ready by 2024, just in time to step in when Vectren exits the picture.
CleanTechnica is reaching out to Alcoa for an update, so stay tuned for more on that. In the meantime, Indiana’s rural electric cooperatives could also play a big role in fast-forwarding the state’s energy transition.
38 electric coops belong to the Indiana Electric Cooperatives organization, which serves 1.3 million ratepayers in 89 counties.
If their renewable energy activity keeps pace with the national trend, look out. Back in 2013, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association partnered with the US Department of Energy to ramp up renewables in the rural cooperative sector. The initial effort involved 17 coops with a total goal of 30 megawatts.
Last July NRECA issued an update on the effort under the title, “A Solar Revolution in Rural America.” Here’s the takeaway:
Hoosier has 18 cooperatives under its belt serving about 300,000 customers,. It is billing the new project as the largest solar array in the state, once commissioned in 2022.
Wind power is also gaining favor among Indiana cooperatives. In 2016, two of them — Hoosier Energy and Wabash Valley Power — signed on for 100 megawatts from the proposed Meadow Lake V wind farm. Meadow Lake V, which was commissioned in October 2017, is part of an 800-megawatt project developed by EDP Renewables.
Then there’s the Indiana National Guard, and the whole rooftop solar sector, but that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax.
As for all those coal jobs Trump promised, the state’s Department of Natural Resources is going with the estimate of 2,500 jobs supported by the state’s mining industry. That’s a far cry from the 1999, when the state’s mining industry employed about 3,000 people, so good luck with that.
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Photo: Meadow Lake wind farm via AWEA.
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