MICHIGAN CITY — In the shadow of the cooling tower at NIPSCO’s coal-fired power plant, the Sierra Club’s Ashley Williams discussed Indiana’s Beyond Coal campaign on Thursday night.
Williams, speaking at the Northwest Indiana Green Drinks event at Shoreline Brewery, said the national campaign to transition utilities to clean energy from fossil fuels started in 2002. The Indiana campaign emerged in 2013, as the group began looking at existing coal plants in the state.
“The goal is to be coal-free in the electric sector and shift to renewable energy by 2030,” Williams said.
Williams said that while the utility industry in Northwest Indiana has created an “economic boom” by generating jobs, residents “have to recognize the environmental justice aspects and amount of pollution and harm it has caused our community."
“We are in a time of climate peril, and we have to alter course,” Williams said.
Williams cited several examples in the Region, including the near-extinction of the Region’s Karner blue butterfly and the erosion of the sand dunes.
Indiana also has the highest number of coal ash ponds in the country, at 83, Williams said. They include a pond at the Michigan City NIPSCO plant and an 80-acre pond at its R.M. Schahfer Generating Station in Wheatfield.
Many of the state's ponds are unlined, and contaminants have the potential to migrate into Lake Michigan, Williams said.
Indiana also has high infant-mortality rates and is third of all states for worst quality of life in the country, Williams said.
“That’s not something to be proud of,” Williams said.
In the midst of all the bad news are signs of hope, including some area schools transitioning to solar power, job growth in the solar sector, and the scheduled decommissioning of the Bailly Generating Station this May and the partial decommissioning of the Schahfer plant in 2023, Williams said.
“These things are an economic drain,” Williams said. “If any new plants are built, they’re going to be gas plants. In the advent of hydraulic fracturing, this is where we are seeing the investment.”
Williams said the group hopes to influence the utility’s transition to renewable energy sources.
“They have a lot on the line to take into consideration,” Williams said. “They have to prepare their workforce. We want to make sure they are prepared and trained and ready to take on this transition, because it is an inevitability.”
Williams encouraged the group to attend a NIPSCO advisory meeting March 23 at Avalon Manor in Hobart, where the utility will discuss updating its 20-year energy plan to transition beyond coal. Those interested in participating must pre-register at nipsco.com/about-us/integrated-resource-plan.
“The question is how we transition to a world of resilience and interdependence,” Williams said. “The issues are all interconnected, and we have shared power if we realize we are all in this together. We can have influence over the process.”