Advocacy groups want Duke Energy Indiana to reopen the public comment period for its 2021 Integrated Resource Plan, saying the company broke state rules by “declining to properly provide opportunities for public engagement” during the initial IRP process.
A Duke spokesperson strongly disputed the claim, saying the company exceeded the requirement for stakeholder meetings.
The IRP forecasts how a utility company expects to meet energy demands for the next 20 years and is updated every three years.
The Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, along with Earthjustice and Vote Solar, said Duke Energy Indiana failed to comply with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission’s IRP rules by “declining to properly provide opportunities for public engagement” during the IRP process.
The groups said they want the company to reopen the public engagement process to allow Duke Energy’s IRP, which commits the company to use fossil fuels for the next two decades, to integrate public input.
The groups commissioned a report on Duke Energy Indiana’s actions during the IRP process, detailing whether Duke Energy Indiana met IRP rule requirements for several parts of the IURC’s codified IRP Rule, including the public advisory process, IRP submission, description of available resources, energy and demand forecasts, resource portfolios and the company’s short-term action plan.
According to the report’s findings, Duke Energy Indiana mostly met its requirements for energy and demand forecasts and selection of resources but did not meet its requirements for its short-term action plan and only partially met its requirements for the public advisory process and other categories.
Duke Energy Indiana said it vehemently disagreed with the groups’ claims.
“We could not disagree more with those statements. We held eight lengthy public meetings and two evening meetings to accommodate citizens who may not be able to participate during the day. That more than meets the Indiana Utility Regulatory commission requirement of at least three stakeholder meetings,” said Duke Energy Indiana principal communication consultant Angeline Protogere.
In its IRP, Duke Energy Indiana said it considered the input of more than 100 stakeholders in eight public meetings and two evening sessions.
But the advocacy groups said that during the engagement process, Duke “failed to facilitate a two-way exchange of information and ideas,” leaving the public unaware of the most essential parts of the IRP.
“It felt like a predetermined path to a premeditated outcome,” said Citizens Action Coalition executive director Kerwin Olson.
During the public engagement process, various groups, including Sierra Club Beyond Coal, Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter, the Hoosier Environmental Council, Earth Charter Indiana and Energy Matters Community Coalition said Duke Energy Indiana “set up a façade of engagement” that shut the public out.
“Our report identified significant areas of concern with Duke’s IRP. At present, we cannot place trust in the current iteration of Duke’s IRP, as it was made with incorrect modeling assumptions and little stakeholder input,” said Olson. “We urge Duke to reassess their priorities and revise their process to create an improved IRP that centers on the public and pursues ratepayer savings over shareholder profits.”
In September 2021, those groups sent a letter to the company, asking it to increase transparency, access and engagement during virtual meetings where the company discussed its IRP plans. But by the end of the public engagement process in mid-November, some of the groups said Duke Energy had “ignored the demands of thousands of customers” when making its IRP decisions.
The CAC, Earthjustice and Vote Solar claim deficiencies in Duke Energy Indiana’s public advisory process are allowing the company to create an IRP that does not sufficiently incorporate technical data from the public or share technical data from the company that is important for assessing the impact of fuel sources used to generate electricity.
Duke Energy Indiana’s IRP preferred portfolio calls for speeding up the retirement of most of its coal-fired generating units while increasing its reliance on natural gas-powered generation. The company also said it would expand its renewable energy generation from 10 gigawatts to 24 gigawatts by 2030.
The company plans to continue the use of its Edwardsport coal gasification plant, which converts coal to a synthetic form of natural gas, but will convert it to natural gas in 2035 and will operate it for another 10 years. The plan also calls for the construction of a new 1,221-megawatt combined cycle natural gas plant.
Natural gas is made up mostly of methane, a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas released when coal is burned.
A vast majority of scientists say a preponderance of evidence points to greenhouse gases emitted by human activity being a primary driver of climate change beginning in the latter half of the 20th century. The gases have trapped heat in the atmosphere, leading to local and global changes in weather that have affected the way Hoosiers live and work.
The company told the Indiana Environmental Reporter that its IRP was based on a responsibility to provide reliable power.
“As we transition to cleaner energy such as solar and wind, we still need power that can be dispatched, such as natural gas, when weather-dependent resources such a solar aren’t available. While it is a fossil fuel, natural gas is cleaner-burning than coal and is a bridge fuel to get us to cleaner energy while more technology is developed. We’re exploring new technologies that are evolving, such as hydrogen-capable gas plants for the latter years of the plan,” said Protogere.
“Generation diversity is essential for a reliable plan. Some generation sources are better for the environment, some are more economical and some are required for meeting 24/7 energy needs. We need a balanced mix to serve customers in the most reliable and economical way possible while using increasingly clean forms of energy.”
Duke Energy said it did incorporate public comments into its IRP decision, and that “some participating stakeholders had different views.”
The company pointed to comments from the Energy Matters Community Coalition, which praised the IRP’s modeling staff for their collaboration, as an example of differing views considered.
The collaboration between EMCC, its contracted research firm, Synapse Energy Economics Inc., and Duke Energy Indiana sought to determine how Duke Energy Indiana could incorporate deep decarbonization recommendations into its IRP.
Despite its stated appreciation of the process, the EMCC said the collaboration fell short of its objectives, leading the EMCC to develop its own decarbonization plan for Duke Energy Indiana to consider.
Comments on Duke Energy Indiana’s IRP submitted by the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP, Indiana Advanced Energy Economy, Hoosier Environmental Council, Sierra Club, EMCC and the Citizens Action Coalition all oppose Duke Energy Indiana’s choice to prolong the life of fossil fuels and put off the adoption of renewable energy sources, with some commenters finding that a resource portfolio including more renewable energy sources would result in lower costs and lower carbon dioxide emissions.
The Duke Industrial Group, an engineering, construction and procurement company, said in its comments to the IURC that Duke Energy Indiana’s decision to use coal to fuel the Edwardsport plant until 2035 would unnecessarily cost ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Comments from Reliable Energy Inc., a trade group representing Indiana coal giants Alliance Coal LLC and Hallador Energy Company, oppose the retirement of Duke’s coal-fired power plants, saying the company’s decision is based on “reducing coal generation, not zeroing out carbon emissions.”
Almost all the comments submitted are asking the company to reconsider its IRP decisions.
“We ask Duke to cooperate with stakeholders and ensure public input is heard,” said Will Kenworthy, regulatory director at Vote Solar. “We and our allies will continue to watch closely, to ensure that Duke creates an IRP that benefits the community and not just their bottom line. Our alternative plan shows that a combination of wind, solar, and energy efficiency is the most affordable way forward
The company said it is sticking with its IRP, but the public will have another opportunity to comment in the next session.
“This integrated resource plan is not a final decision on power generation. It is reevaluated at least every three years based on changes such as energy demand and environmental regulations. There are opportunities for consumer groups to participate throughout the regulatory process, including any regulatory approval process for new power generation,” said Protogere. “We’re making an orderly and responsible transition to cleaner energy, while maintaining a focus on the reliability and affordability of our service for our customers.”