Indiana's statehouse.Indiana’s statehouse.Flickr: mattindy77The Indiana lawmakers are considering legislation that would define “clean coal” and nuclear-generated electricity as renewable energy.

They’re also mulling bills that would define John “Cougar” Mellencamp as a jazz musician and categorize the pork tenderloin sandwich as a vegetable.

Seriously, the energy change, being debated as part of a set of changes to the state’s electricity laws, would allow nuclear and clean coal electricity to qualify for state renewable energy funding incentives. And it would let them count toward a renewable electricity standard — also under consideration in the statehouse — that would require Indiana utilities to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

Indiana is the only Midwestern state (and one of 21 total states) that does not have a renewable electricity standard. That could change by the time its annual legislative session closes at the end of the month. The proposed energy package would also increase the amount of electricity that home energy producers can sell back to utilities, known as net metering.

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But there are big questions about how effective the renewable standard would be if nuclear and clean-coal sources count toward meeting it.

“We would be the embarrassment of the nation, defining renewable energy to include uranium and coal,” said Kerwin Olson, a lobbyist for the utility consumers advocate group Citizens Action Coalition.

Another problem: as it stands now, the renewable standard bill would apply only to the state’s investor-owned utilities. It would exclude municipal and rural electricity cooperatives, which cover much of the state.

But nothing’s set in stone yet, and the real negotiation will happen in conference committee negotiations over the next two weeks, according to state Sen. Richard Young (D). He agreed to coauthor the redefinitions bill precisely so he could play a greater role in committee negotiations, despite disagreeing with it, he said.

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“We should be doing everything we can to encourage renewable energy,” Young said. “I don’t support nuclear energy as something that should be getting extra credits or incentives as a renewable.

“I do support clean coal technology because I think we’re going to need coal for a while. If we’re going to have it, we should make it as clean as we can. I don’t buy the argument that we can get by without it. If you need to put it in ‘renewables’ to get the incentives, OK, I’ll buy that. [But] do I think it’s renewable? No.”

The legislation holds special interest for Duke Energy, which has a “clean” coal gasification plant under construction in Edwardsport, in southwestern Indiana.

A separate bill would make nuclear power projects eligible for the state’s controversial “construction work in progress” law that allows utilities to bill customers for construction costs before plants are finished and producing electricity.

“They can’t get financing from Wall Street, so they need a funding mechanism,” said Olson, of the consumers group. “They’re allowed to bill ratepayers while the plant is under construction, before it’s useful. Our position has always been, if they want to build a plant and can find financing for it, go ahead, but don’t bill ratepayers for it until it’s actually up and a useful facility.” 

Laura Arnold, president of the Indiana Renewable Energy Association and a lobbyist for eight renewable energy companies in the state, emphasizes the economic potential of the renewable standard in promoting it to lawmakers.

“We’re still a manufacturing center,” she said. “We have a lot of idle plants and trained employees who could be manufacturing components for wind turbines … Many of these companies, when they look to locate a manufacturing operation, want to see what the political climate is toward renewable energy before they make an investment. So this is kind of a litmus test of whether the state government is receptive to the renewable energy.”

She said she would like the standard to apply to rural cooperatives (REMCs), but thought it was unlikely to pass in such a form this year.

Of the 29 states with renewable standards, I’m not aware of any that consider clean coal or nuclear energy “renewable.” Ohio has separate standards for renewable and “alternative” energy, with some room for nuclear and clean coal under the alternative standard.

What do you know, dear readers? Have other states employed creative definitions like this? Is there rationale for Indiana’s plan that I’m not hearing? Post tips below or send them to jhiskes [at]

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