Duke Energy Edwardsport Plant: CAC Op-Ed

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At the Indiana Carbon Capture and Sequestration Summit in September 2008, Duke Energy President Jim Rogers claimed that he would bring the new Edwardsport coal-fired power plant online at or under budget. So Mr. Rogers I must ask, what exactly is that budget?

In September of 2006, Duke placed the costs at $1.3-$1.6 billion. By November 2007, costs escalated to $1.985. Six short months later, $365 million was added to the price tag raising the project to $2.35 billion.

Since that point, Duke and Mr. Rogers have expressed concern over “price pressures” being realized at Edwardsport related to construction. Therefore it was no surprise when Duke came back to the well, better known as the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, last month seeking another $150 million from captive ratepayers. After Chairman Hardy, former counsel of PSI Energy now Duke, rubber stamps Duke’s latest demand, this boondoggle will stand at $2.5 billion, nearly double original estimates.

But wait, they’re not done. Duke states in a press release dated Nov 24 “(we) will use the next few months to examine future costs projections associated with labor, engineering, procurement and plant start-up.”

When is enough, enough? When will Chairman Hardy do his job? The IURC states its mission as: “An advocate of neither the public nor the utilities, the IURC is required by state statute to make decisions that balance the interests of all parties to ensure the utilities provide adequate and reliable service at reasonable prices.”

The reality is this: were this a new government building, sports arena, or heavens forbid, something that actually serves the public good like a library or a school, many, including elected officials, would be concerned about the tax implications. But since this project is being involuntarily financed by invisible utility ratepayers, no one seems to care. Last time I checked, there was no discerning difference between a ratepayer and a taxpayer--same wallet, same checkbook, same legal obligation and lack of choice.

The truth of the matter is that this plant is simply not needed by Duke to meet their legal obligation of providing reliable electricity to their customers. The only need being met by this fiasco is the padding of Duke Shareholder’s pockets at the expense of the very customers they are required to serve.

State Senators, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Indiana Manufacturers Association warn us all that a $300 million tax increase on business would devastate our State’s economy and end life on Earth as we know it, so we must delay enactment of the new unemployment tax; yet nary a word is mentioned about the $2.5 billion (and growing) rate increase being forced upon the 770,000 customers of Duke Energy. Many of those customers, I must add, are businesses allegedly represented by the Chamber.

Who will stand up for consumers? Will these same Senators work to limit rate increases as they do tax increases? Will the General Assembly finally protect the ratepayer dollar with the same fervor as the taxpayer dollar and consider the ratepayer dollar just as precious and finite as the taxpayer dollar?

Again Mr. Rogers I ask, what is that budget? Your customers deserve to know.

Kerwin Olson
Program Director
Citizens Action Coalition