Indiana House defeats proposed moratorium on new power plants

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An effort by Indiana Republicans to put a two-year moratorium on large new power plants has failed, following strenuous objections from utilities, environmentalists and consumer groups.

The House of Representatives voted 53-38 Thursday evening to strip language that would prohibit state regulators from approving new power plants, new power contracts or changes in fuel sources until Jan. 1, 2021, on huge projects.

The proposed moratorium was widely seen as an effort to delay the plans of several large utilities to retire aging, coal-fired generating units and replace them with renewable energy and natural gas.

In recent days, groups as diverse as the Indiana Energy Association, Hoosier Environmental Council, the Sierra Club and Citizens Action Coalition protested a moratorium, saying it could delay investments in clean energy and prompt energy companies to build in other states without similar restrictions.

Their concerns were raised on the House floor by Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, who introduced an amendment to strip the moratorium language from the legislation, Senate Bill 472, an unrelated bill that deals with water and sewer issues. Pierce said no other industry faces such moratoriums, and delaying the move to cleaner power would only cause energy companies to invest in other states.

The moratorium’s supporter, Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, argued that a temporary halt was needed while the state tried to determine whether the industry’s move away from coal and toward cleaner energy would throw the electrical grid out of balance or create electricity reliability issues. Indiana has been moving away from coal for years, but the shift has accelerated recently.

In recent months, two major utilities have announced plans to shift hard away from coal. Northern Indiana Public Service Co., based in Merrillville, and Vectren Corp., based in Evansville, both announced plans to retire much of their coal-fired generating capacity and shift to cheaper fuel sources.

Soliday, chairman of the House Utilities Committee, proposed the moratorium last week with little advance notice. The committee passed it 8-4 along party lines, without any public testimony.

The vote Thursday to kill the moratorium proposal was a rare win for House Democrats. Several members of the House applauded when the amendment vote was announced.

The Hoosier Environmental Council said the move will likely remove delays to renewable energy projects around the state.

“It means that jobs-producing, sustainable-minded energy projects, like those in northwest Indiana, will likely move forward in a very timely manner,” said Jesse Kharbanda, the group’s executive director. He added that it would help Indiana “remain in the game in the U.S. renewable energy investment boom.”

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