The Journal Gazette
Monday, August 22, 2016 10:28 pm

Finding the energy for change

Dr. Tom Hayhurst

Across the country, the transition away from coal to cleaner forms of energy is under way. Yet Indiana Michigan Power wants to pour more money into the aging AEP-Rockport, Indiana, coal plant that not only pollutes our air and water but also stifles development of clean wind and solar energy and energy efficiency.

I&M plans to spend more than $3 billion of our money to retrofit and keep burning coal at its AEP-Rockport plant in southern Indiana until 2035 and beyond, in addition to spending billions more to buy out-of-state coal that powers the plant. Last year, I&M developed and evaluated several energy plans but rejected a lower-cost option that would have phased out half the AEP-Rockport plant by 2022 and invested in clean energy like wind and solar energy.

While the cost of burning coal increases, the cost of wind and solar power continues to fall. Recently, El Paso Electric in Texas became the latest utility company to move entirely off coal. Indianapolis is second in the nation in per capita solar capacity, and has recently launched an energy storage system that will change how electricity is managed. Meanwhile, I&M’s plan would double down on 1900s coal technology by pouring billions of dollars of our money into the AEP-Rockport plant, the sixth-largest carbon polluter in the nation.

My neighbors and I have been loyal customers of I&M. We’ve paid our bills on time and we’ve been patient during power outages. Now, we need I&M to be loyal to our community. Wasting our money on the AEP-Rockport plant will only take us down a path toward higher energy costs and more financial risk. Shifting from burning out-of-state coal to using renewables such as wind and solar would save citizens of northeast Indiana money as well as create new jobs here.

Let’s also consider an aspect of burning coal and other fossil fuels that goes beyond economics. There is no question that burning coal has deleterious effects on those who breathe the polluted air belching from these plants. Dr. Norma Kreilein, a pediatrician for 25 years in Washington, Indiana, (in the shadow of the AEP-Rockport plant) feels strongly about this. "I’ve seen the effects of air pollution every day in more than 25 years of caring for children’s’ health in the shadow of coal-burning power plants like AEP-Rockport," she states. She adds, "If you could see the abnormally high number of children with allergies, sinus problems and chronic illness in my community, you would want to do something, too."

In 2014, experts at the Clean Air Task Force estimated that AEP-Rockport’s pollution causes 130 premature deaths, 200 heart attacks and 2,200 asthma attacks every year. I have a special stake in the health aspects of living downwind from this coal-burning plant. Several family members in southern Indiana and northern Kentucky – including two of my grandchildren – are potentially exposed to small-particle pollution, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, lead, mercury, arsenic, benzene and numerous other toxins from AEP-Rockport’s smokestacks.

Last year, I&M issued a 20-year energy plan to chart a path for meeting customers’ energy needs. That plan would increase their use of renewable wind and solar power from only 3 percent today to a disappointing 13 percent by 2035. The cost of clean energy like wind and solar continues to fall. Expanding and prolonging the use of coal for energy production continues to threaten the health and economic welfare of Hoosiers and others. Hundreds of millions of dollars paid to I&M by their customers in northern Indiana are being used to pay for outmoded technology. The time has come for I&M to move into the future in a proactive way and upgrade to efficient, clean and increasingly economical wind and solar power. Our health and our pocketbooks will both benefit.

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