Second Life for an Indiana Coal Plant—as an Inland Port

American Electric Power’s (AEP’s) Tanner’s Creek Plant in Lawrenceburg, Ind., concluded six decades of operation last May as the company moved to retire a group of its oldest plants. Closure of the four-unit, 995-MW coal-fired facility (Figure), once the most efficient steam plant in the world, was a blow to the southwestern Indiana communities around it, representing a loss of both jobs and tax revenue.

 

Tanner’s Creek

AEP’s four-unit Tanner’s Creek Plant in Lawrenceburg, Ind., retired in May 2015 after 63 years of operation. Courtesy: AEP

 

The plant is being decommissioned, but the site it sits on may be destined for rebirth as the state’s fourth port. Brownfield redevelopment firm Commercial Development Co. (CDC) and its affiliate Environmental Liability Transfer (ELT), announced on October 24 that they had acquired the 725-acre site from AEP subsidiary Indiana Michigan Power with the intent to evaluate it as a port site.

The move has been in the works for some time. Gov. Mike Pence and the statewide port authority Ports of Indiana have both identified the plant as a possible port site because of its location at the intersection of the Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio borders. Indeed, the location was one of the deciding factors for building Tanner’s Creek in the late 1940s because of the ease of access to coal shipments. The site has direct riverfront access to the Ohio River, as well as connections to highway and rail, and is located in close proximity to major Midwest population centers such as Cincinnati, Louisville, Columbus, and Indianapolis.

The Midwest has been battered by a wave of coal plant retirements, something AEP and other generators have publicly acknowledged is a major challenge for both plant owners and communities. While the plants may be gone for good, those same firms and communities are realizing there are ways to make the transition a smoother one.

Tanner’s Creek is shaping up as a model of how that can work. CDC and the Ports of Indiana will now explore redeveloping the facility as an inland port, the authority said in a statement.

“We have identified the retired Lawrenceburg power plant as a potential site for future port development and we could not have gotten to this point without the support and assistance from AEP and CDC,” said Rich Cooper, CEO for the Ports of Indiana. “It’s too early to say what can be constructed here, but we’re excited to have the exclusive right to further investigate this site with CDC. We’ve already had inquiries from companies that may have interest in locating or shipping products at this site, which is definitely encouraging for future development.”

Significantly, especially from AEP’s standpoint, CDC will take over responsibility for environmental remediation. The company said that will include soil and groundwater remediation, asbestos abatement, closure of the site’s ash ponds, removal of residual coal, and demolition of most of the existing structures, as well as environmental monitoring. This process is expected to take three to five years, at which point the site will be ready for redevelopment. CDC is working with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to finalize remediation plans.

—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).