- By Cheri Shelhart firstname.lastname@example.org
At the monthly meeting of the Jasper County Council, discussion regarding the closing of the coal powered generating plant in Wheatfield is a cause for concern. County Commissioner Kendell Culp and Economic Development Director Steven Eastridge told the council they had met with the president and CEO of NIPSCO to learn about the planned closure of the large facility, which employs 300 people and is the county’s largest taxpayer in the county.
The county could face a loss of over $5 million in assessed value due to the closure scheduled for 2023 to 2024. Eastridge said they would meet again with the tax team at NIPSCO to get more numbers on how the assessed value will drop after the last coal burning unit is shut down.
He and Culp were told the company has determined burning coal is no longer a feasible option for producing electricity. Renewable energy is cheaper and the company has begun investing in wind power, solar and battery storage for electricity. “Nothing is final until it’s final,” Eastridge said, “but this is their preferred path.”
He said there are two small gas units that produce about 50 megawatts each that may stay at the Wheatfield facility. NIPSCO is studying the feasibility of increasing the use of these or leaving them as they are.
There will be some assessed value coming from the plant, but the final numbers aren’t clear yet, although they know the property taxes will be considerably lower when the large portion of the facility is no longer producing electricity.
Culp said he had just been at a function where a business owner and an elected official told him NIPSCO was bluffing. “They are not bluffing,” he said. Eastridge said NIPSCO will be doing their due diligence over the next five years to study what they will do with the plant and the grounds in the future.
Culp said some of the land is tillable farmland, and that it is taxed as such. He said there will be 300 jobs lost as well. With the closing of the coal generator in Michigan City also, the utility company has 120 people employed there. Culp said he was told that half of those employees will opt in for early retirement while the other half will find other jobs within the company, but NIPSCO isn’t able to give the Wheatfield employees the same offer.
Councilman Gary Fritts asked if the property could be used as a potential professional site in the future. “We as a county, need to be engaged in that conversation as much as possible in this,” Eastridge said.
Council President Rein Bontreger then asked about other industries looking at locating in Jasper County. Eastridge said he is talking with individuals in the food processing industry that are interested in the strong agriculture of the county. He said Remington has large, highly develop able acres that create a “cluster of opportunities” there. Jasper County is located half way between Chicago and Indianapolis, and this is another selling point for the county.
With a number of leads coming from the state, Eastridge said the Remington property is unique in that it is utility ready and that is what companies are looking for when considering new construction.
Commissioner Jim Walstra mentioned the area on St. Rd. 14 at I-65 west to the county line is zoned commercial and the water and sewer would come from Newton County as a viable option as well. Eastridge agreed saying, “It’s a little more tricky to navigate, but it is an opportunity.”
Eastridge said there are nearly 70 acres available as well on the west side of I-65 along St. Rd. 114. Although there is a pipe already placed underneath the interstate, it isn’t sufficient for piping both water and sewer to that side of the highway, but they all agreed it would get done eventually.
As the plans to shut down the generating plant continues, many more discussion will take place as the county government looks to a future without NIPSCO.