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Electrical infrastructure stock

Power lines, rail lines and steel mills stretch across the Lake Michigan shoreline in Northwest Indiana.

The May 31 shutdown of NIPSCO’s coal-fired Bailly Generating Station in Burns Harbor is another signal the energy industry is changing.

Natural gas is cheaper, and burns cleaner, than coal. Natural gas plants have been popping up to meet demand, but not new coal-fired plants.

It’s important to carefully weigh the balance between reliability, cheap power and the adverse health effects of pollution to determine the best energy portfolio for companies like NIPSCO.

Longtime residents remember that NIPSCO wanted to build a nuclear power plant where Bailly now stands. Sustained protests led the utility to abandon that plan. Nuclear plants are no longer being built in the United States, and many of the existing nuclear plants are near their life expectancy. 

NIPSCO now is mapping out a 20-year Integrated Resource Plan for its future, something it does every three years. In the process, it is looking at the best mix of fuel sources. That’s more difficult than it might sound.

Coal currently powers 61 percent of NIPSCO’s generating capacity. With Schahfer Generating Station in Wheatfield aging, NIPSCO will have to look at alternative sources for power.

Technology is improving, making wind and solar power more viable options than they were even 10 years ago. Fracking has made natural gas more available and more affordable.

Some utility customers are demanding green power and paying a premium to support solar and wind power as part of the grid.

The energy industry is heading in that direction, no question about it. The real question: At what speed should the industry move?

Indiana is more heavily dependent on coal than most states. Coal is less expensive to burn than most other fuels.

But there are environmental costs associated with coal that should be factored in as well.

Likewise, there are bird strikes and other issues to consider with the use of wind turbines. Each fuel source has advantages and disadvantages.

Through meetings with stakeholders and the public, NIPSCO is creating a new Integrated Resource Plan for the next 20 years. That plan should ensure reliability will continue while fuel costs are controlled and the environment and health concerns are taken into consideration.

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Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Local News Editor Marc Chase, Lake County Editor Crista Zivanovic, Porter/LaPorte County Editor Doug Ross and Deputy Local Editor Erin Orr.