Flip a light switch pretty much anywhere in northeastern Indiana, and there’s a good chance there’s a lump of coal providing that energy.
Two of the largest energy providers in northeastern Indiana, NIPSCO and Wabash Valley Power Alliance, which provides power to REMCs in the four-county area, both list coal as their top source of power in filings with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.
NIPSCO gets 71.6% of the energy it supplies from coal. Wabash Valley Power Alliance says 36% of its electricity is powered by coal.
Indiana and Michigan Power is the outlier, with 65.9% of its power coming from nuclear, though coal is a strong second energy source at 28.2%.
Northeast Indiana is not unique in the state in its reliance on coal.
Indiana is one of 15 states that relies on coal more than any other energy source for its power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
That same source says 20 states in America get their power mainly through natural gas. Six states apiece rely mainly on hydroelectric power sources, with six others relying most heavily on nuclear power.
A former Avilla resident and local state representative, Matt Bell, has been picked to lead Reliable Energy Inc., an advocacy group to promote the interests of the coal industry and its supporting businesses.
Bell will have his hands full.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Monthly Energy Review October 2020 report, the consumption of coal continues to decrease.
During the 12-year span from 2000 through 2011, coal consumption in this country exceeded 1 million short tons 11 times.
By 2018, coal consumption was down to 688,000 short tons. In 2019, according to the report, consumption was down to 587,353 short tons.
Through the first nine months of 2020, consumption was down even further.
Energy companies are moving away from coal and onto more environmentally friendly alternatives.
NIPSCO representative Dana Berkes said her company will be decommissioning two of its coal power sources in 2023 and 2028, respectively. That will drop NIPSCO’s reliance on coal to 17% of its power creation supply in 2023 and well below that in 2028.
I&M is in the process of adding significant renewable energy sources, according to the company. In 2021, the St. Joseph Solar Farm will go online and generate up to 20 megawatts of energy – more than doubling our solar resources.
In addition, earlier this month, I&M announced it is planning to add 450 megawatts of wind and solar energy, potentially combined with battery storage technology.
“The people of I&M are dedicated to serving our customers reliably and in a manner that is cost effective, while using state-of-the-art technology and increasing our emission-free resources. Our customers count on us to keep the lights on 24/7 and to be their energy provider into the future,” said Toby Thomas, president and chief operating officer, Indiana Michigan Power. “It is important to everyone at I&M that our transition to utilize more emission-free technology be done in a way that benefits our customers. Seeking additional emission-free technology makes sense for us, our customers and the long-term growth of our service areas in Indiana and Michigan.”
Bell said coal still has its place in the state and country’s power grid.
“Our hope is that we can lead an effort to educate Hoosiers about the importance of reliable and affordable baseload energy,” Bell said. “We will actively recruit members into our association so that they can advocate on behalf of the industry as well. Of course, we will play a role in legislative and regulatory advocacy as well.”
With coal taking heat from environmental groups because of emissions concerns, Bell may face an uphill battle.
“We are clearly in the midst of a transition to more renewable energy sources. Power generated by coal in Indiana has dropped from more than 90% at the turn of the century to just under 60% today. At the same time, we have seen tremendous increases in the price of energy in Indiana, increases that far outpace national averages.
“We embrace an all of the above solution to powering Indiana’s businesses and homes. Coal has a critical role to play in that mix, and we are honored to promote the importance of this vital industry.”
According to Bell, there are 16 coal-fired power plants in Indiana.
According to the National Mining Association, Indiana coal mines provide 5,599 direct jobs and support an additional 10,834 jobs, according to Bell.
Current state Rep. Dave Abbott, R-Rome City, holds the seat in the Indiana General Assembly formerly held by Bell.
“We need to make a smooth transition to renewables,” Abbott said. “We don’t want to drop coal in a way we put an unacceptable number of people out of work. Coal is not going to be here forever. We’re going to have to ease our way out.”
Bell said he has no qualms with advocating for the coal industry.
“My business partner, Tony Mitson, and I have always held each other accountable to a promise we made to each other when we founded Catalyst seven years ago, namely that we would only represent clients and issues that we would vote ‘yes’ for if we were members of the Indiana General Assembly,” Bell said. “As we learned about the industry, the men and women it employs, the contributions it makes directly and indirectly to the Indiana economy, and the role coal plays in ensuring that Hoosiers and Hoosier businesses benefit from reliable, affordable energy, we were eager to advocate on its behalf.”