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Troubled Indiana gasification plant begins operation

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A new coal-gasification power plant in southern Indiana that's been hounded by cost overruns and ethical scandals has started commercial operation, Duke Energy said Monday.

Duke Energy said that its $3.5 billion, high-tech 618-megawatt plant near Vincennes will produce 10 times as much power as a former plant but emit about 70 percent less pollution, The Indianapolis Star reported.

While Duke boasts the plant is one of the largest, cleanest coal-fired power generating facilities in the world, the project has drawn strong criticism as its price tag ballooned from its original 2007 cost estimate of $1.9 billion.

It has also been the focus of an ethical flap after company officials and regulators were found to be discussing the cost overruns in secret meetings, prompting several firings and resignations. Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels fired the state utility commission's chairman amid the fallout.

"Coal has powered Indiana for more than a century," said Duke Energy Indiana President Doug Esamann. "But today's air quality standards require us to use that fuel in a cleaner, more efficient way. Edwardsport turns coal into a cleaner-burning fuel and enables us to continue using an abundant local resource."

The plant is expected to build up to its long-term level of production over the next 15 months. It is expected to employ about 140 full-time workers. About 3,500 workers took part in the plant's construction.

Duke's 790,000 Indiana electricity consumers are expected to see an increase in their monthly bills of 14 percent to 16 percent by early next year, 9 percent of which has already occurred.

Duke is Indiana's largest electric utility, operating in 69 of the state's 92 counties. Duke has 4 million electric customers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, along with 500,000 natural gas customers in Ohio and Kentucky.

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