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January 25, 2008

Hoosier Daddy? Big Coal

As plans for new coal-fired power plants are being canceled at unprecedented rates, and the possibility of a carbon tax looms large on the American horizon, state legislatures are scrambling to come up with proposals to spur new types of energy development that will not contribute to the planet's rising GHG problem. And in Indiana, despite a recent poll suggesting that 73 percent of Hoosier-state residents were in favor of HB1112, a bill that would have required investor-owned utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2018, it did not make it out of Committee on Thursday. The Indiana House Commerce, Energy and Utilities Committee defeated the bill by a vote of 8-3. By itself, that does not sound like good news. However, upon further inspection, it turns out that this bill may be better off dead anyway. Why? Coal.

Indiana's energy portfolio is 95 percent dependent on coal. HB1112 was the first time for renewable energy legislation to be voted on in Indiana that did not include incentives for coal. The bill was scuttled in committee because the Chair (also the bill's sponsor), refused to hear amendments that would include incentives for the elusive technologies of 'clean coal.' Rep. Dave Crooks (D-Washington) said, "My desire was that if we're going to debate a renewable energy bill in this state it needs to be a pure renewable bill." Crooks failed to garner the support of his vice-chair, Rep. Kreg Battles (D-Vincennes) who said, "I've made it very clear that I will support renewables, but I don't want to put clean coal at a disadvantage."

Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council said the vote would have been a 'golden opportunity' for Indiana to send a message to out-of-state investors that Indiana was open for renewable energy business. "Sadly that welcome message was not sent," said Kharbanda.

I understand why environmental groups would want a renewable energy standard in Indiana, but I am surprised they are crying so loudly about the defeat of this particular one. First off, a 10% renewable energy standard is rather paltry. Second, there is no such thing as clean coal. There are, however, plenty of other clean technologies that do need investors and policy support. Coal's heyday is near its end. And I applaud Rep. Crooks for taking a stand against Big Coal.

Crooks indicated that it is still possible for a renewable energy bill to be revived this session, but that it was not very likely.

Inside Indiana Business
Indianapolis Star
Photo: j3net via flickr

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