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Influence? Paper Examines Relationship Of Duke's Rogers, Indy Regulator

Duke Energy executives were having private meetings with the top Indiana Utility regulators to discuss cost overrun at a new coal-fired power plant long before they were made public, the Indianapolis Star reports. As you may recall, three Duke executives were fired or resigned after the Star obtained e-mails that showed cozy relationships with the head of the Commission as the utility was dealing with cost overruns and trying to get final permits for a new coal-fired power plant. In two stories that ran Feb. 24, the Star reveals friendly e-mail correspondence between Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers and IURC Chairman David Lott Hardy, who since has lost his job as well. Reporter John Russell also examines the appropriateness of Rogers and another Duke executive meeting with Hardy at a "swanky" restaurant, where they discussed a new, $530 million overrun at the plant. Overall, the plant is costing nearly $1 billion more than projected, and Duke wants regulatory approval to pass on many of those costs to Indiana customers. The breakfast meeting at the Capital Grille -- and several others like it -- are now raising serious questions about whether Duke's top executives exerted undue influence on utility regulators to pass along steep overruns to ratepayers to bail out a project plagued by rising costs, Russell writes. Rogers has characterized the meetings and discussions as a "courtesy heads-up." But there are groups who want the IURC to investigate and see if Duke had undue influence in the regulation of the plant in Edwardsport, Indiana. "It's like a defense attorney talking to a judge without the jury or prosecutor present. You just can't do it," said Kerwin Olson of Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana. Industrial customers of Duke are also upset. "At the start of the case back in 2006, Duke elected to have the commission provide ongoing review of the project. From that point on, there should have been no private conversations about the project between anyone at Duke and anyone at the commission," Tim Stewart, a lawyer for industrial customers, told the Star. He added: "It's especially bad when the heads of Duke and of the commission are having secret meetings, the sole purpose of which can reasonably be assumed to be to ensure that Duke recovers the massive cost overruns from its ratepayers." Here are links to WFAE's reports on Duke's Indiana controversy: Duke Hiring Probe Puts New Indiana Power Plant In Question Duke Energy In The Indiana Hot Seat Duke-Related Decisions In Indiana Will Stand, Despite Ethics Scandal More Fallout For Duke Energy In Indiana