If it were up to most of the nearly 300 people who came to I&M’s public hearing Tuesday, the electric utility and its parent company, American Electric Power, would drop the proposed quarter of a billion-dollar investment in the Rockport coal plant and move immediately to renewable energy.
Craig Smith of Fort Wayne told three commissioners from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission that he had the same appreciation for coal that he had for the horse-drawn carriage.
"Why spend a quarter of a billion dollars putting rubber tires on a horse-drawn carriage?" asked Smith, who said his grandfather was a coal miner. "Why not a Tesla?"
I&M is seeking a 1.6 percent rate increase to offset environmental compliance work at the Rockport Generating Station in southern Indiana near Evansville. The proposed technology would reduce the coal-fired facility’s nitrogen oxide emissions in order to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation.
The station provides about half of I&M’s power production.
That the station is in southern Indiana did not sway local speakers who said the pollution caused by Rockport in terms of carbon dioxide, mercury and sulfur dioxide emissions would still create unhealthy pollution for southern Hoosiers.
"It harms the health of fellow Hoosiers," said Sara Simpson of Fort Wayne who became choked up when she spoke of her Christian-based objections. "This means I&M customers are paying for a super polluter. Indiana should quit being a state stuck in place."
The Rockport plant has been dubbed one of the nation’s 22 super polluters in a report from the Center for Public Integrity, USA Today and the Weather Channel.
Many objectors who came from Muncie, South Bend and southern Indiana called the move antiquated and outdated and brought up states such as Texas, Kansas and Iowa – where windmills and other renewables are supplying a greater percentage of the state’s power needs – that are not states known for progressive agendas.
Supporters said I&M was a good community partner and that safety was one of the company’s paramount goals.
I&M has wind and hydro energy power with solar being built, according to its website. Coal is still the biggest energy producer and nuclear second.
Before the hearing, which began at 6 p.m. at Homestead High School, Beyond Coal, a branch of the Sierra Club, rallied at Peace United Church of Christ. About 100 people came to the rally.
Jodi Perras, Beyond Coal manager for Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky, said not only are there costs associated with bringing the coal-fired plant into EPA compliance, but coal must be shipped from out of state. The plant will continue to need up to $3 billion in retrofits, she added.
"We need them to decide now to start transitioning away from coal and start investing in clean energy here in Fort Wayne, in South Bend, in Muncie," Perras said.
The three commissioners listened and took notes but did not speak. An administrative judge, David Veleta, presided over the hearing. A decision is expected in the spring, according to a fact sheet available through the Indiana Office of the Utility Consumer Counselor.