A state consumer protection agency wants a deeper look into Duke Energy Indiana’s new power plant in Edwardsport, which the agency says consumed more energy than it produced late last year.
The Office of the Utility Consumer Counselor is trying to put the brakes on Duke's request for $1.5 million related to Edwardsport expenses that would be covered by customers, according to a Friday filing with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, a separate state agency that rules on rate cases.
Utilities routinely file such so-called "rate cases"—usually quarterly—to recoup fuel costs for producing electricity. The consumers’ office always weighs in on these cases, but the most recent Duke filing, which looks at fuel expenses between September and November, has become a special concern due to "negative output."
In other words, the plant required more energy to operate than it produced, according to Anthony Swinger, a spokesman for the utility consumer counselor's office.
“We’ve never seen an episode of negative generation as large as this,” Swinger said. He did not have specifics on how much electricity the plant consumed.
The state usually moves through fuel-cost cases quickly, but the OUCC wants more time to examine the issues.
Duke spokeswoman Angeline Protogere said the company always expected the Edwardsport plant to have low output at first. The facility, which went online in June, is supposed to ramp up to full production over 15 months.
“This is a complex project, and we always have said time would be needed to work out technical issues," Protogere said.
Duke has addressed most of the complications that hampered output, she said.
The OUCC’s filing came a day after a handful of environmental and consumer groups urged state regulators to investigate Edwardsport’s operations due to the paltry amount of electricity it generated in January.
The $3.5 billion plant about 60 miles north of Evansville produced 4 percent of its maximum capacity during the month.
The project, originally billed in 2006 as an efficient way to generate electricity by converting coal to gas, has struggled with billion-dollar cost overruns and ethical breaches that resulted in high-profile firings at both Duke and the IURC. The plant's original cost estimate was $1.9 billion.
Duke Energy Indiana provides electricity to about 790,000 homes and businesses in Indiana. Parent firm Duke Energy Corp., based in Charlotte, N.C., operates dozens of power plants and serves 7.2 million electric retail customers in six states in the Southeast and Midwest.