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AES Indiana accepts 2,500 petitions calling for the closure of Petersburg coal plant

AES Director of Public Relations Kelly Young accepted petitions from activists calling the company to move to clean energy (Ben Thorp/WFYI)
AES Director of Public Relations Kelly Young accepted petitions from activists calling the company to move to clean energy (Ben Thorp/WFYI)

Activists gathered outside of AES Indiana’s office in downtown Indianapolis Wednesday to demand the energy company close its Petersburg coal plant. They say the plant is one of the largest air and water polluters in the state and that renewables would be cheaper and cleaner.

AES Indiana is in the middle of creating its long-term plan for how it will generate its energy in the coming years and which plants it may retire.

AES has already closed one unit of the Petersburg plant and plans to close another by May of next year. That leaves two more units with no plans for retirement.

Wendy Bredhold is with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Indiana.

“It’s long past time for them to retire,” she said. “It’s something that city leaders and local customers have been asking for for a very long time so it’s overdue.”

Bredhold said the transition to cleaner energy needs to happen sooner rather than later, and pointed to heatwaves and climate disasters across the world. The burning of coal and gas is increasing greenhouse concentrations in the atmosphere, warming the world, and increasing climate extremes (including heatwaves) across the planet.

“It’s almost unimaginable that they wouldn’t announce the retirement of these last two coal units within this IRP planning process,” she said. “What’s ahead if they don’t is a disaster.”

AES Indiana has said it will decide between keeping the remaining coal units running as-is, converting them to natural gas, retiring them, or some combination of these options.

Bredhold underscored that it wouldn’t be good enough if the company transitioned from coal to gas.

“It’s too late,” she said. “No more fossil fuels.”

According to AES, the company currently generates roughly 43% of its energy from coal and 45% from natural gas. The remainder comes from a mixture of oil, wind and solar.

Kerwin Olson is with the Citizens Action Coalition. He said especially as the price of gas and coal are going up it makes sense to transition to wind and solar sources.

“As we’re seeing these extraordinary, unprecedented short-term increases in cost for natural gas as well as for coal that is beginning to translate on to customer's utility bills,” he said. “...guess what you don’t get when you have solar panels or wind turbines? You have no fuel costs.”

Kelly Young, director of public relations for AES, met with activists during the event and accepted some 2,500 petitions calling for the corporation to switch to cleaner energy sources.

“As of today, no decision has been made for the remaining two coal generating units in Petersburg,” Young said.

AES scheduled five key stakeholder meetings before releasing its new plan. The fourth of those public meetings will be Sept. 19.

Young said the company is taking input from all of its stakeholders.

“We welcome input and we have continued to appreciate and welcome that input from key stakeholders like the Sierra Club and those that were here represented today,” she said.