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NIPSCO could retire Michigan City coal plant early, proposes natural gas 'peaker' plant

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An aerial photo of the R.M. Schahfer Generating Station in Wheatfield where NIPSCO plans to close its coal plant and potentially build a new natural gas peaker plant. (Courtesy of Google Maps)

The northern Indiana utility NIPSCO has refined its long-term plans to be mostly powered by renewable energy in the next 20 years. That includes the option of retiring its Michigan City coal plant up to two years early.

The company also wants to build a new natural gas peaker plant to replace its two aging peakers at the R.M. Schahfer Generating Station in Wheatfield. These plants only run during hours when energy demand is high.

Nick Meyer is the vice president of state communications for NiSource — NIPSCO’s parent company. He said the plan allows the utility the flexibility in ensuring reliable energy for its customers as it transitions to mostly wind and solar in the future.

“We knew that those would need to retire here at some point. So, you know, are we able to do that before Michigan City retires or does it need to be at the same time? So tried to provide a little bit of flexibility," Meyer said.

READ MORE: Northern Indiana utility NIPSCO to close half of its Schahfer coal plant early

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Meyer said it’s not clear what effect the new peaker plant would have on rates — though they’re expected to go down overall.

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Ashley Williams is the executive director of the group Just Transition Northwest Indiana. She said adding more gas feels like the company is backtracking from the bold renewable energy plans it made in 2018.

“So many utilities, right — not just Indiana, but across the country — are looking at NIPSCO and what they're doing right now, right, in terms of their renewable energy investments. Do what you're setting out to do," Williams said.

Meyer said NIPSCO's overall plan is largely the same as it was in 2018 and potentially could result in more renewable energy resources than what was previously announced.

Williams said NIPSCO also needs to consider impacts to the community in its long-term plans — including better worker protections and cleaning up its coal ash waste.

This story has been updated.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said that the proposed natural gas peaker plant would be located at the R.M. Schahfer Generating Station. That was incorrect. NIPSCO has not yet chosen a location for the proposed plant. That sentence has been omitted.

Contact reporter Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

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.