On Wednesday Nov. 3, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) conducted a hearing on the continued need for Duke Energy’s coal gasification plant currently under construction at Edwardsport, Ind. The plant is way off its original price tag of $1.2 billion. The cost is now close to $3 billion and counting.

Indiana’s consumer counselor, David Stippler, stated at the hearing that, for economic development purposes and the use of Indiana coal, it would be a “sin” not to complete construction of the plant and use our “God-given” resource, Indiana coal.

The only sin here is that the Consumer Counselor supports the plant and that the commissioners at the IURC have been, up to this point at least, impervious to factual evidence with respect to this power plant. The plant is simply not needed because there are cheaper ways to meet electric demand as Duke’s own testimony, recently filed at the IURC, points out.
"The only sin here is that the Consumer Counselor supports the plant and that the commissioners at the IURC have been, up to this point at least, impervious to factual evidence with respect to this power plant."
Meanwhile, Duke’s CEO, Jim Rogers, continues to portray himself and his company as true visionaries in embracing a “clean” technology in the wake of more environmental regulations. Moreover, Rogers’ claims that the only way to provide reliable service is to replace extremely dirty coal-fired power plants with slightly less dirty coal-fired power plants. And, of course, if Duke doesn’t build this plant, the implication goes, the lights will go out. All of which is complete nonsense and borne out in Duke’s own testimony.

These assertions are without merit for many reasons. But the most telling reason why the plant should be canceled is found in Duke testimony before the North Carolina utility commission in 2006/2007, the same time Duke was pushing coal gasification in Indiana.

While Duke was spinning coal gasification in Indiana as the best thing since sliced bread, the company was arguing against coal gasification in North Carolina as being too expensive and unreliable -- exactly what CAC was saying about coal gasification at the time and still does. Unlike in Indiana, Duke was advocating for approval for a conventional coal plant before the North Carolina commission. So, according to Duke Energy, in North Carolina coal gasification wasn’t ready technologically, but in Indiana, Duke argued, the technology was old hat.

This evidence was filed with the Indiana commission in 2006 during the proceeding to approve the construction of Duke’s coal plant in Indiana. In other words, the IURC knew about this evidence then and, under recently jettisoned leadership, ignored it completely. It is evidence that makes Duke’s sworn testimony on Wednesday completely moot if not specious.

Grant Smith is the executive director of Citizens Action Coalition. He can be reached at gsmith@citact.org.