Edwardsport plant rebounds in March after flat February

Duke Energy Indiana’s controversial Edwardsport power plant produced almost no electricity in February due to repairs and maintenance, before rebounding in March, the utility said Monday.

The $3.5 billion coal-to-gas power plant generated 1,125 megawatt hours of power in February, or 0.3 percent of its maximum capacity, company officials reported in a monthly filing with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

The extended pause in power production was rooted in mechanical issues that also caused meager output in January. That sparked deeper scrutiny from the state’s agency for utility consumers, as well as outside consumer groups.

With machinery down in February, Duke decided to bump up a maintenance shutdown scheduled for March. The work kept Edwardsport offline for most of the month, Duke spokeswoman Angeline Protogere said.

“In February, when we realized we needed to make equipment repairs and we were close to the spring [maintenance] outage, we decided to go ahead and take the spring outage early,” Protogere said. Doing so was more efficient than restarting the plant before shutting it down again a few weeks later.

Edwardsport’s production returned in March to 230,000 megawatt hours, according to preliminary figures the company provided to IBJ. About 80 percent of the electricity came from synthetic gas, with traditional natural gas making up the remaining 20 percent, Protogere said.

March’s production was about 50 percent of the plant’s capacity, which is more in line with where Duke says the plant should be as it ramps up to full production.

Duke declared Edwardsport commercially operational in June. Its strategy is to gradually step up production over 15 months, officials said.

Longtime project critic Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition, said he was “not at all” won over by the improved production numbers in March.

“This is something that was supposed to be operational in October 2011,” said Olson, whose organization lobbies on behalf of ratepayers in utility matters.

He referred to Duke customers as “involuntary investors” because they have to cover $2.6 billion of the project's cost through rate increases.

The costs have resulted in 14-percent rate increases since 2009, with another 2 percent to come.

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