NIPSCO is investing millions of dollars in pollution control equipment at its R.M. Schahfer Generating Station in Wheatfield and its Michigan City Generating Station. These projects will extend the life of these coal-fired plants while improving air quality.
The utility has begun to use the first "scrubber" installed at Schahfer, the culmination of more than 1.7 million hours of work since the project began in 2011. More than 800 local craft laborers were required, providing a big employment boost at a time when the region's economy was sputtering.
A second scrubber at Schahfer is expected to be completed by next autumn.
A third scrubber, at Michigan City, is expected to be completed in 2016.
The scrubbers remove certain pollutants from smokestack emissions. Once finished, NIPSCO expects sulfur dioxide emissions to be reduced by 80 percent. Other environmental controls will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 35 percent.
"Improving air quality is important, and we have made substantial progress in recent years by diversifying progress in recent years by diversifying our supply mix and investing in other environmental improvements," said Mike Finissi, chief operating officer for NIPSCO. "We worked diligently to ensure that we completed the project safely, on time and in the most cost-effective way for our customers."
That's important as the need for environmental improvement is balanced with keeping utility bills down.
Coal is plentiful, and cheap to burn compared to other fuels, but it can be dirty. These projects extend the functional life of NIPSCO's two flagship power plants by improving emissions.
It is a costly undertaking, with a price tag of $739 million. But the result will be some of the cleanest coal-fired power plants in Indiana.
NIPSCO should be commended for making this commitment.