Indiana Votes in Favor of a Coal Bailout Bill

This week the Indiana House narrowly endorsed a proposal aimed at making it more difficult for Indiana electric companies to close more coal-fired power plants. As Inside Climate News explained this is the latest effort by coal-heavy states to beat back the market forces making coal-fired power more expensive than wind, solar and natural gas.

Indiana is also vital for the coal industry, with a history of coal mining and power plants that burn more coal than in any state other than Texas.

  • At the same time, several Indiana utilities have announced plans to close coal plants ahead of schedule, saying they are responding to a market in which there are less expensive alternatives.

What Happened: As the Indy Star reported, supporters of the bill, whose provisions are currently set to expire in May 2021, have defended it in part as a stopgap measure to help Indiana as it pivots to cleaner energy sources. In a relatively close vote, House Bill 1414 passed out of the House, 52 to 41. In fact, the vote was tight enough that House Speaker Rep. Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, cast a “yes” vote — the speaker does not normally vote unless it will make a difference in the outcome.

What This Means for Indiana’s Power: Inside Climate News explained that utilities would need to follow new rules for giving notice of plans to close or sell the plants, and state regulators would need to conduct a review to make sure the plans are in the public interest.

  • Another part of the bill says it is in the public interest for Indiana to have a mix of power plants that provide “reliability, availability, fuel security and diversity”—some of the same terms the coal industry uses to argue for why its plants should stay open.

However, just last year, one of Indiana’s utilities announced that it would begin to retire coal plans in favor of renewable energy. Going to show that even in a conservative state, the economics of renewable energy is undeniable. Yet just when the Indy Start reported that coal’s dominance in Indiana was on the decline, the coal industry worked hard to push this latest bill through the legislative process.

Why This Matters: This new law would cause higher utility bills for Indiana’s ratepayers as expensive coal plants would have their lives extended and the costs would be passed onto customers. The coal industry is desperate to stay alive despite the ominous economics. Last year the industry’s influence was felt as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved new rules to counteract state subsidies that support the growth of renewable energy and use of nuclear power. It’s not a play that will be successful in the long run but we don’t have any time to lose in transitioning to a clean energy economy.

One Funny Thing: This was an amendment to the Indiana coal bill:

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