The northern Indiana utility NIPSCO has announced it will shut down half of it’s R.M. Schahfer coal plant in Wheatfield by the end of this year. That’s about two years earlier than when the whole plant is expected to shut down in 2023.
Nick Meyer is the vice president of state communications for NiSource — NIPSCO’s parent company. He said the reason behind closing half of Schahfer early is the same reason the utility decided to shutter all of its coal plants and move to mostly renewable sources by 2028.
“We just continue to see, from an economic standpoint, a significant cost to maintain and continue to operate these units. And the fact that there is cheaper, less expensive energy that we can purchase on the market," Meyer said.
NIPSCO has also made recent transmission upgrades and completed two wind farms late last year — Rosewater in White County and Jordan Creek in Benton and Warren counties. The utility hopes to complete its Indiana Crossroads wind farm by the end of this year.
Barbara Deardorff’s home is about two miles from a landfill that holds coal ash from the Schahfer plant. She used to live even closer, but decided to move when she found high levels of manganese in her water.
Deardorff says she is excited to see the transition away from coal and towards renewable energy, but that she also has some concerns.
She said it’s important to her that the coal ash from the plant is contained in the safest way possible.
“But it's equally important to me that the workers at the Schahfer generating station have options for another union job with good wages and benefits," she said.
More than 100 people work at the coal units expected to shut down this year. NIPSCO is looking into ways to retrain employees for other jobs at the company, but nothing has been decided yet.
Deardorff said the coal plant is also one of the largest taxpayers in the area and when it closes, that could have a big impact on funding for area schools.
La'Tonya Troutman is a co-founder of the group Just Transition NWI and the environmental climate justice chair of the LaPorte County branch of the NAACP. In an email statement, she said adding sources like solar is a start.
"But we must address a Just Transition towards a regenerative economy in its entirety. This includes giving Jasper County assurances of job training and rehiring opportunities for affected employees within the local economy," Troutman said in a statement. "Inclusive public meetings must also be held to ensure NIPSCO’s closure plan involves protective disposal and recycling of coal ash addressing past health and environmental impacts from the Schahfer plant."
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.