Stop The World, Indiana Wants To Get Off

I have posted before about the Indiana Legislature’s rear-guard effort to protect the increasingly obsolescent coal industry.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed a bill preventing Indiana utilities from switching from coal to cleaner, cheaper energy. The bill effectively blocked utilities in Indiana from closing any coal-fired power plant unless the closure had been mandated by the Trump administration – something that would never happen, given Trump’s repeated–and increasingly empty– promises to “bring back coal.”

The bill did contain one exception: a coal plant could be closed if the utility owning it could “prove” to state utility commissioners that it would be in the public interest. Even that  exception was framed to provide coal companies opposed to the closure a mechanism to drag the issue through the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and the courts. That would cost utilities and ratepayers huge sums of money and further delay the transition to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

Indiana thus joined the rearguard action against the market forces that are making renewables and natural gas cheaper than coal. (So much for the vaunted Republican respect for the market.). A Democratic legislator memorably offered a snarky amendment to the bill that would have protected whale oil, too.

The state did convene a commission to study the situation, and that body has now issued its recommendations.

According to the IBJ,

Seven months after Indiana lawmakers passed a bill prohibiting utilities from shutting down coal-fired power plants before May 2021, a state energy task force is considering a sweeping array of measures that seem to favor existing large-scale utilities, many of which still burn coal, over providers of renewable energy.

The Indiana 21st Century Energy Policy Development Task Force, which was set up to guide lawmakers in crafting a long-term energy plan, released draft recommendations Wednesday after months of testimony.

Consumer advocates and environmental groups both sharply criticized the draft recommendations, charging that they would extend the life of coal plants and delay Indiana’s transition to renewable energy.

The draft didn’t include any recommendations on energy efficiency, net metering or on-site generation.

“The Task Force should resoundingly reject this draft report,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana. “It completely ignores substantial testimony given throughout the process and dismisses the current business plans Indiana utilities already have on file.”

A longer article from the Indianapolis Star included criticisms from the academic members of the commission and others who were especially concerned with the substantial areas of vagueness in the recommendations.

The vote to accept the draft report broke down along partisan lines, with the Democrats voting against and the Republicans voting to accept the draft.

It is notable that the Chair of the Commission, Ed Soliday, was the author of the above-referenced bill slowing the transition from coal (the “save whale oil” bill). Citizens Action Coalition, among others, gives him poor marks for consumer protection, and Follow the Money lists substantial contributions he has received from utilities, coal, mining, oil, natural gas, steel, and environmental services & equipment. 

Welcome to Indiana.

A historian friend of mine once characterized Indiana’s political culture as “quid pro quo.” Another friend–the late and much-lamented NUVO editor Harrison Ullmann– called the Indiana General Assembly “the world’s worst legislature.” (In all fairness, he didn’t live to see the U.S. Senate under the control of the vile Mitch McConnell.) It’s no wonder we share the distinction of being one of the 10 least environmentally friendly states with the likes of Kentucky and West Virginia.

But then, we rank near the bottom on all sorts of indices. Health, education, quality of life. And thanks to gerrymandering, those “good ole boys” who exemplify Indiana’s “quid pro quo” political culture fully intend to keep it that way.

28 thoughts on “Stop The World, Indiana Wants To Get Off

  1. You hit a home run today, Sheila!

    Industry profits over people and the planet have gripped Indiana for so long. The people insist on voting against their best interests even if it is killing them – which it is.

    It’s really a microcosm of how money and power destroy everything if left unchecked. Once again, the primary role of the Fourth Estate is to hold power in the government accountable. It is required to restrain the human instinct of greed. The government is supposed to hold the industry accountable. The keyword is the abuse of power for personal gain.

    In this state, the newspapers/media have acquiesced all the power granted them by our Founders to the industry captains, and so have the legislators. It’s why the only ranking where Indiana leads the country is CEO satisfaction.

    The Chambers should be proud, eh?

    And another note, if our Indiana legislators are willing to trade Hoosier’s lives for corporate profits regarding the energy sector, where else are they making these tradeoffs?

  2. There has been a post on Facebook, “IPL and Duke customers can get solar panels at no cost”; I clicked on the post to read only for information as to how that would be offered. Clicked on the only option for private home and, because my monthly bills are not over $75 I wouldn’t qualify and also didn’t qualify for more information, they posted an ad for energy saving windows. I have tried another option on Facebook for information with the same results and nothing on Google regarding this issue.

    Citizens Gas Company combined with the Indianapolis Water Company a few years ago; this would save money for the customers they said. I pay for my checks so this does save me the cost of one check and one USPS stamp every month so technically, they didn’t lie. Except for the increases in costs. And the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is sitting on pleas for cost increases with utility profit margins in the billions of dollars. Have they been waiting for the outcome of this latest election?

    “But then, we rank near the bottom on all sorts of indices. Health, education, quality of life. And thanks to gerrymandering, those “good ole boys” who exemplify Indiana’s “quid pro quo” political culture fully intend to keep it that way.”

    The Republican party as a “political culture” is obviously an immovable object in Indiana; with no change in sight.

    “Honest To Goodness, Indiana”

  3. Although I am not a Hoosier, I have a lot of familiarity with coal-fired energy production, and, it’s filthy and dangerous.

    Sheila is correct, follow the money! Because there will be a direct correlation from the coal mining companies, to members of legislature, and from so-called public utilities to the legislature, forming a beautiful web of Grift and graft.

    I remember when I started working at a large utility which had a station on the border of Illinois and Indiana, it was called Stateline station, quite a large coal plant. Every so often they would send some of us maintenance men down to that station after coal dust explosions which seemed to happen with regularity. You could see coal trains loaded above capacity practically, waiting to be dumped as far as the eye could see.

    All being lined up to enter the car dumper, a great big building in which the entire coal car would be turned upside down and dumped into a pit. The amount of coal dust released into the atmosphere was astounding and killed most of the wildlife that would enter into that area. The fly ash that was produced from these huge seven-story boilers was even more dangerous. Fly ash is loaded with heavy metals (nickel, cadmium, manganese, lead, and others that are even more deadly including mercury and such! This fly ash wood and up in the ash ponds which never completely contains the fly ash and heavy metals! These heavy metals seeped into the groundwater and aquifers in those areas, and is not completely filtered out of the drinking water during water treatment.

    The natural state and location of coal has been artificially disturbed to bring it close enough to contaminate the aquifers with petroleum and its byproducts, where population centers get their water. There was also a direct correlation between the location of these coal-fired power plants concerning cancer outbreaks and birth defects in the population. On top of everything else, these coal-fired plants were insulated with asbestos! The amount of asbestos in these plans which was mostly produced by Johns Manville, lent these stations to being efficient slaughterhouses of employees and extended out into the population where the antiquated powerplants served.

    I remember a lot of the men that I started working with when I was employed by the utility, died very young! I was hired after Illinois struck down the nepotism laws, and, it was an eye-opening experience.

    The generating stations in Illinois and I’m sure the same and Indiana had to hire individuals to work on the coal piles, interestingly, those were working outside on the coal piles were mostly African-American workers. Because, the work was cold and very dirty. The reason for it was, management seemed to believe that black workers were too stupid to work inside where they would have to control pressure valves and log tonnage coming in and fly ash going out from the boilers.

    So these men working in fuel handling outside on the coal piles would make the money because they had to make sure the coal trains were emptied otherwise the utility would have to pay a parking fee to the state and also from the railroad.

    I was placed outside in fuel handling on the coal piles even though I worked for the mechanical maintenance department as a B mechanic, one reason was because I asked to be there because that’s where most of the black folks worked, and, that’s where all the overtime was! It was common to hear my white counterparts complain about the amount of overtime wages I would make, because it would usually amount to triple my listed pay rate.

    Make no mistake, it was a dangerous place to work, and as a maintenance worker, we had to regularly remove dead animals hit by empty train cars coming down the kickback track, and, bodies of animals, fish, and humans which would be sucked up into the cold water treatment plant to provide water to the boilers.

    It really was surprising how many human floaters would get sucked into the treatment area, I guess because of the current along the lake shore, made a perfect funnel towards the giant inlets.

    I watched one of the best boxers I ever knew, a foreman with the last name of Ingram, could’ve been a professional heavyweight. Before I left the station and went to lineman’s school, he was leaving his shift, started to cough in the parking lot, hemorrhaged 2 arteries in his lungs and bled to death out of his mouth in a couple of minutes. His wife sued, and it came to light, he died not only from black lung, but also white lung! So from coal dust to asbestos dust.

    At least 50% of the workers I knew when I started back in the late late 70s, died way before their time. Of course, becoming a lineman wasn’t much better, over 50% of those folks in my class died before retirement.

    Illinois changed a lot of laws to protect the workers including closing most of the coal plants and/or converting some of them to natural gas. All of the coal plants in the city of Chicago which numbered around 5 were closed and demolished!

    Not only are these coal plants dangerous to the workers but even more so if you can believe it, to the general population in the gradient of these plants.

    I would imagine that if the new administration is lobbied, and the families of those who have died from being poisoned from contaminated groundwater or breathing contaminated air, both employees and civilians, the federal government could make sure these plants will be closing!

    It definitely is worth it, utility work is never easy, and it still retains a lot of unfair and bigoted work practices, and it reflects something from other times that should be eliminated from society.

    I hope that works out for y’all!

  4. This would not be an issue if coal-fired plants had never been allowed to built chimney’s more than 75 feet tall. That would let the smoke and particulate matter settle to the ground and not pollute the entire atmosphere.
    So, if Republicans want our electricity to be produced with coal, they should mandate that the smoke stacks be lowered to less than 75 feet in height. And it would definitely satisfy Hoosiers because:
    Republicans happy because coal will be used.
    Environmentalists happy because there will be less global air pollution.
    Hospitals happy, but only in certain areas, where the plants will produce a growing industry for COPD treatments.

    But most importantly of all, the GGA (Gerrymandered General Assembly) would still be able to maintain its reputation as the world’s worst legislature, well, second worst until Mitch leaves.

  5. JoAnn,

    The solar energy isn’t free. It would cost you about 12 – 15 thousand dollars, but they have financing already set up. They make money from the sale of the solar panels and from the interest they charge you. In turn, your savings over a long period of time would offset both of those costs. You just have to live long enough to see it.

    The coal battles are, to date, the most stupid thing the legislature has engaged in, but Indiana can be heartened by the thought that the next great environmental battle will be fought over water. I note that Harrison wrote quite a lot on that subject, as well. I miss him, too.

  6. And why Indiana’s most high-valued export are college graduates. No matter how much money (and it’s not really a lot) Hoosier cities and towns pour into making their city-centers shiny and livable, it cannot begin to compensate for the economic and cultural grievances of the vast majority of Hoosiers who cannot afford to enjoy these amenities or view them with contempt.

    What the author calls Quid Pro Quo politics is what I call crony-capitalism, which got its start in the mercantile age and still exists in varying degrees in every state in the Union, but especially in the deep red and mostly Southern states, and most especially in Washington DC.

    Some historians have long regarded Indiana as the most Southern of the Northern states and it does seem to share a lot demographically with a number of them. I think Indiana needs to set higher goals than to become another West Virginia.

  7. Peggy; thank you, that is why I was interested in information because I knew is couldn’t actually be free. Possibly the panels are free; that was unclear and I tried another Facebook post for customers in Boone County if in a designated zip code but could get no information.

    The last public information from IPL I saw was regarding solar power their application to acquire the unused/stored solar power on private homes for their own disbursement and use. Not only is nothing free but what is yours is not yours if the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission decides it isn’t. I haven’t seen the outcome of that situation.

  8. JoAnn,
    Here in illinois, if you make a certain amount of money or less, you can get a grant to have them play solar panels on your roof and battery systems in your basement.

    Depending on where you live, when powered generators the size of 55 gallon drums can be put on your roof and produce just as much power as solar and store it in the batteries in your basement.

    I’m not sure of the cost in Indiana, but here it’s about seven Grand for the wind power.

    If you have a family member that’s handy enough, you can purchase the wind power generators for your roof and install them yourself. It’s pretty easy to figure out the wiring and installing the battery panels and throwover switch.

    If I lived there, I,d do it for you since I’m retired and usually bored for the most part, well, except for this broken leg and personal study lol!

  9. Indeed, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Indiana, we must remember is the state that elected the empty shadow personality also known as Mike Pence, to be its governor.

  10. Welcome to Ohio were the power company bribed the state Speaker of the House $61,000,000 to pass a bill that kept two nuclear power plants open(also maintain Indiana coal-fired plants) at a cost of $2/month/every Ohio utility user for 10 yrs. Of course not a single Republican legislator in Ohio was aware of this bribe(Speaker doled out $$ for various Republicans who were his). Power company would have shut these plants because the power costs about 3X more than coal and 5X more than natural gas which is super abundant in Ohio via fracking.
    For the record coal-fired plants output KwH costs about 2X more than gas not only for the product but coal is super abrasive on equipment. Gas also has about 1/2 the pollutants than does coal.

  11. I pay 50 dollars more on the excise tax of my car because it is a hybrid car, a Prius. This will not encourage Hoosiers to buy electric vehicles.

    Obviously the “good ol boys” and others in the energy sector of Indiana lack a creative vision for the future that will preserve the ecosystems of Indiana and not poison my fellow Hoosiers.

    If the fossil fuel industries had any common sense, they would start investing in other sources of energy ie solar, wind and maybe like Scotland start researching ocean turbines that can generate electricity. They then would need research subsidies from the government, no doubt. And with Republicans in control, it might be hard for them to get the research funds they want.

  12. John Sorg, thank you for that incredible story of your time working in the bowels of a coal-fired power plant. We’re glad you managed to get up and out and remain healthy enough to to share commentary with us.

    In the early 70’s I worked Summers in the foundry of a company named Zollner Pistons. My first impression of it was that of a scene out of a Charles Dickens novel. I won’t bore you with my horror stories involving the lack of worker safety but when one of the permanent employees (lifers we called them) told me that I should quit wasting my time in college and come work full-time I told him that I would never step in a factory again unless I owned it (neither has happened in the following 45 years).

    But the industrialist Fred Zollner poured the profits from his enterprise into his many pastimes, one of which was supporting his semi-pro men’s softball and basketball teams, the latter of which was called the Zollner Pistons. Fred saw the potential for growth in professional sports and moved his basketball team to Detroit and co-founded the National Basketball Association.

    Take good care of that leg dude!

  13. Hoosiers will be well prepared when the 1950s return.

    Much of the anti-progress of the conservatives is a simple game of kick the can. Their political strategy is to enhance wealth redistribution up today by moving investing in solutions to their successors. That’s effectively a dead end one way street.

  14. I remember researching the phrase “worst state legislature” and variants of that phrase. I found out that everyone thinks their state legislature is the “worst.” Indiana did not even remotely rank near the top of the states with that designation. And when compared to Congress, the Indiana General Assembly is remarkably efficient. Of course, that’s not saying much.

  15. Sounds like Indiana is a South Carolina wannabee. But we’ve become so liberal that a SC congressman named Clyburn chose the president-elect of the United States, we elected a democrat in Charleston to Congress because he opposed offshore drilling (he has since been defeated), and the University of South Carolina won’t allow students back on campus in January unless they’ve taken a Covid test. Ecology discussions are often given short shrift, but they are not verboten. But we are poised on a pin and determined to reverse anything that resembles progress if it harms former Governor Haley’s chance to win the presidency in 2024.

    If you look up “elite” in the dictionary, you will find the antonym to be “South Carolina”. We actually have brilliant and accomplished people in residence, and a minority who recognize empathy’s claim on the soul, but for the most part, while discussions about ecology are not forbidden, they are given short shrift if the debate has anything to do with growth.

    Our citizens are kept busy paying for an 8 billion dollar scam in the form of a failed nuclear power plant. It distracts their attention from what might otherwise be animadversions directed toward our corrupt legislature.

    When I see maps that show red states to be, for the most part, geographically contiguous, I wonder if the half of our citizens who never wished to be part of a majority-driven country in the first place shouldn’t be given a second hearing.

  16. Robin,

    Your comment piqued my interest. So I went looking to see if Indiana actually charges a higher excise tax for hybrid vehicles. According to the BMV, the excise tax (which is only a portion of the license plate fee) is based on the original value of the vehicle (which class it is in) and the age of the vehicle (the amount of excise tax goes down as the vehicle ages.) Hybrid vehicles tend to be a bit more expensive to buy so it might be a bit higher because of that. But I didn’t see any any $50 extra fee for a hybrid vehicle.

    https://www.in.gov/bmv/fees-taxes/vehicle-registration-fees-and-taxes/excise-tax-information/

  17. I worked for IPL (Indianapolis Power and Light) for 12 years. I worked in IT, but because everything is computerized now days I got to all of the facilities, and they are dirty and dangerous and I feel sorry for anybody that ever had to work in a coal fired power plant full time.

    But, IPL is owned by AES and AES owns power companies and generating plants all around the world. To get money to build power plants needs loans from big multi-national banks, and they will not loan money for new coal projects. The only time you hear about new coal facilities being built is when a government is financing them. On top of that, investors are getting smarter, and will not invest in a company that is not planning for a future, and that future is without coal. AES has a goal of dumping all of their coal generation in the next 20 years.

    AES/IPL did shut down a coal power plant and build a new gas fired power plant in Martinsville. The did it on the same site right next door to the coal power plant, because to abandon the property and sell it, would have cost hundreds of millions to clean up the old coal ash ponds, so they are not all angels in the board room. The new power plant is called a combined-cycle gas turbine plant, and is about 80-90% efficient.

    The Indianapolis Harding Street Station was converted from coal to natural gas. All they did is remove the coal bunkers and install gas plumbing, so no real upgrade on that plant. That means that a boilers that were built in the 1960’s and 1970’s, that were only about 50-60% efficient are still in place, but burning cleaner gas.

    IPL’s Petersburg plant (Indiana Super Polluter) is still burning coal, but they have shutdown some of the older less efficient turbines, but are still burning thousands of tons of coal a day.

    Funny somebody mentioned Ohio. AES bought Dayton Power a Light. IPL is a cash cow for AES, they send about $1 million a day in profits to corporate headquarters. DPL is a regulated utility as well, but it was a smaller company with aging equipment in a very different regulatory environment, DPL has cost AES hundreds of millions in write offs. Ohio does not allow power companies to automatically add the cost of new power plants into the rate base like Indiana does. They allow everyone to choose where to buy their electricity from, and if you are in the DPL foot print, then they can only charge you a “connection” fee to mainline the delivery system, and they have to pass through the rates from the supplier of choice. (Don’t ask me how the grid works to make this happen, but it does and can). The one downside to the approach taken by Ohio is at some point there will be little to no generation left in the state, and that will destabilize the east coast power grid. Indiana’s power grid is in the Mid-West territory, so we may fare a little better.

    When you visit a country like Germany and 50% of the buildings have solar panels on them, and the power is stable and works well, it makes me sad for Indiana and most of the rest of the US.

    The Indiana study committee had their heads someplace the sun doesn’t shine, brown nosing certain industry lobbyist, and like so much else in politics now days, it is not reality based.

  18. I left the “Goober State” when I graduated from an engineering institute in Michigan …in 1962. I had personal justification to leave Indiana. That said I also beheld Indiana as backward. A comedienne, Totie Fields, had a great line for airline passengers flying into Indiana….” ATTENTION ATTENTION ! We are presently landing ! Set your watches back 30 years ! …..” I never forgot that line.

  19. Patrick,

    That was an interesting bit of history, I think I sort of heard about Zollner’s Pistons which became the Detroit pistons, but I never knew the backstory of the whole thing.

    I can just picture that place looking like hell! That is if you believe in that sort of thing, it was the same way at the generating station.

    When you were walking down the catwalks that encircled those seven-story boilers, you would have to use a cane pole with a rag attached to the end and walk down those catwalks to make sure you weren’t hit by an invisible stream of steam. that steam would cut that rag off the end of the pole like a laser beam. when I was there, there were several contractors that were killed and almost cut in half by these high-powered steam vents that would shoot out through openings and cracks in the side of the boilers.

    It seemed like OSHA really had no authority concerning these publicly regulated utilities or there was some shenanigans going on concerning OSHA.

    It seems that human life is very cheap, and it hasn’t gotten much better from then to now! Next door to where I started working at the Waukegan generating station, John’s Manville was in full production of asbestos. They were eventually shut down but it was after I left. They actually had large pools of quicksand in the back at the lakefront where they lost men and back in the day, teams of horses and wagons. My cousin Scott was a millwright over there at John’s Manville.

    And Patrick, you are absolutely correct, it looked like some sort of dystopian existence which it really was.

    The actual amount of death in the plant and even next door at Manville was ungodly high, but nothing ever changed! These last bastions of early industrial history need to be shut down immediately, human life should be more valuable than a few bucks jingling around and someone’s pocket.

    You should write a book about your experiences Patrick, lol!

  20. Paul and Robin, I bought a 3 year old 2016 Kia Soul EV just off lease, (purchase price much cheaper because of fear of battery longevity). In January The tags ran out (in Oregon we don’t replace plates, just get a new sticker) and I find Oregon decided to charge a fee to replace the gas tax, so instead of tag fee of $85, it worked out to $306. Of course, that was the flat-rate fee, the per mile fee would have been more! And also of course, I don’t drive as much because of the Covid!

  21. I also think the “road fee” imposed on hybrid /electric vehicle drivers for not using more gasoline is ridiculous. This fee shows the regressive thinking of Indiana legislature!

  22. OK – time to anger some – Cars have become more fuel efficient – a good thing – more people are buying hybrids, and to a lesser extent, all electric vehicles – also a good thing

    Now – ages ago we decided to fund our roads and such with “gas” taxes – roads have been allowed to decay and there is less “gas” tax to fund repairs – One solution is to say – cars being driven cause wear and tear on the roads, thus every car being driven should be taxed – If you are also paying more for “gas” taxes, you shouldn’t be double taxed, so they put an higher “tag” fee on electrics and hybrids – it is logical IF you accept that tax structure

    For the hybrid and electric owners, they save both money for gasoline, repair (less moving parts in all electrics) and “gas” taxes, so maybe it evens out

    Still, as Sheila points out, with the Indiana legislators, I am surprised they accept those “newfangled horseless carriages” – Whale oil indeed – I think the logging industry would bribe them first to return to wood burning.

  23. The “road fee” is collected every year with the car sticker renewal. It’s applied to hybrids/electric car owners exclusively. If the legislature wanted to be fair they would apply the fee to all vehicles. Personally, I resent the discriminatory tax!

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