As the country continues to trend away from coal, Vectren is now following suit. On Tuesday, they announced a plan that would almost fully eliminate their coal burning operations as they shift into renewables.
Chairman and Vectren CEO & President Carl Chapman says the transition from coal to renewables won’t be easy, but outlined a five point plan that will help them get there.
It starts with the main driver between coal and renewables, natural gas. That will come in the form of 900 million dollar natural gas plant that would take over the current A.B. Brown site in Posey County. Chapman says natural gas gives an advantage since the plant is easier to turn on and off and natural gas is a cleaner fuel. The target operation date would be 2023 for the new plant.
With natural gas as the transitional fuel — the commitment to renewables is shown in this plan by way of a new solar array. Chapman calls it one of the biggest solar fields in the Midwest, plans show 150,000 panels over 300 acres. Details are scarce for the project as Vectren is still negotiating the site and dollar figure. Chapman plans for the solar array to produce about 50 megawatts, in comparison to the natural gas plant which will produce 800-900 megawatts. Construction on the solar array could start as soon as next year.
Coal mines, a Southwestern Indiana staple, are going by the wayside in the Vectren plan. One of the steps would be to retrofit the Culley plant to EPA standards. The Culley unit is Vectren’s most efficient and largest unit. The Culley unit will continue to fire Southwestern Indiana coal.
As for the other 4 units Vectren currently uses to power 145,000 customers, those will be retired or exited. That should reduce Vectren’s carbon footprint by about 60%. The four units are: both of the A.B. Brown units, a unit at F.B. Culley in Warrick County and Vectren would exit a partnership with Alcoa where they co-owned a unit at Alcoa’s plant in Newburgh.
With all the closures, that could mean a loss of jobs. Chapman says that between transitioning in the company, retirement and timing they shouldn’t have to layoff anyone, even if the total number of jobs goes down.
The final portion of the plan would be closing coal ash ponds. Chapman says discussions have begun on if they can extract and recycle the ash from the ponds.
With about 1 billion dollars in projects planned, customers maybe concerned some of that would show on their bills. To that, Chapman says the federal tax reductions announced last week should offset any additional costs. Vectren officials say the monthly average bill will stay stagnant until at least 2024.
By diversifying its resources, Chapman believes it should help attract even more businesses to the area. It could also help boost the local economy in the short term. Between building the new natural gas plant and setting up the solar field, Chapman believes Vectren could employ up to 1,000 people in construction roles.
For some, this plan does not goes far enough and entirely misses the mark. Sierra Club members are speaking out about the plan saying that it continues the region’s dependence on coal.
“Vectren’s proposed fracked gas plant is larger than the coal-burning power plants it would replace. We are concerned that a plant this size will crowd out the need for any meaningful investments in renewable energy for 40 to 50 years. Vectren customers already have the highest electricity bills in the state. Does Vectren need such a large plant to meet customer demand, or are they making us pay for a fracked gas plant that will make profits for Vectren – or its buyer – at the expense of their customers? Instead, Vectren can lead Evansville to a clean energy future with a commitment to renewable energy such as solar and wind, and a robust energy efficiency plan that will save money and create jobs, rather than locking our community into dependency on polluting and dangerous fossil fuels for decades to come.” Said Wendy Bredhold, Senior Campaign Representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Indiana, in response to the plans.