A City County Council Committee is meeting, Tuesday, to discuss a proposed resolution to have Indianapolis Power and Light Company phase out its coal burning sooner.
The utility plans to convert two units to natural gas by 2020, but will keep one boiler burning coal until 2034. Those who live near the plant, and some doctors, say that’s too long because of the negative health effects.
Two of Amber Sparks' three children developed asthma as toddlers. She says the condition led to about 20 emergency room visits, half a dozen intensive care stays, and thousands of dollars in medical bills.
Sparks’ family lives about three miles from the Harding Street Power Plant and believes that is what is triggering her children’s severe asthma.
"They have said that my son's asthma is exacerbated by air pollutants," she said. "And on bad air days,when the pollutants are more heavy in the air from the coal plant, there is a noticeable difference in his health and in his ability to any sort of physical activities."
Dr. Stephen Jay with IUPUI’s School of Medicine and Public Health says other factors contribute to air pollution in Marion County, but calls the Harding Street Plant a major source.
"In Indianapolis, Harding Street is a major contributor to air pollution," he said. "The plant contributes about 88 percent of the industrial toxic releases in Marion County annually."
Last year, the EPA released an air quality report and Indianapolis ranked last among like-sized cities including Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Charlotte.
IPL says it is complying with all federal guidelines and is putting together a plan to have a more diverse energy producing process including solar, wind and natural gas.
But, Jay says until IPL completely phases out its coal burning, the air quality issues won’t go away.
"We want young people to come and settle in Indianapolis and set up businesses and stay here and having an air pollution problem is just not good in terms of providing incentives for young families to bring their families to Indianapolis," said Jay.
The Community Affairs Committee will take its first look at a bipartisan proposal calling on IPL to phase out its coal burning by 2020.
But, those like Amber Sparks, who live near the Harding Street plant, are tired of waiting.
She says IPL provided a free assessment and advice on projects she can do to keep the pollutants out. But, for a single mother on a fixed income she is looking for a more permanent solution.
"I think that people have, sort of, this fear that everyone is going to fight back against paying extra on their light bill," she said. "But, I think everyone that I've spoken to is in agreement that we would be willing to pay whatever we had to be safe and if that is the permanent solution and the goal for the future, then I think we need to press them until they do that."
IPL says converting two units to natural gas by 2020 is already costing customers an extra 2 to 3 percent on their monthly bills, and keeping the other unit burning coal until 2034 is the most cost efficient option.