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Charlotte Area News

Duke Energy's Indiana Woes Intensify

http://66.225.205.104/JR20110715a.mp3

Charlotte-based Duke Energy faces serious setbacks in Indiana, where it is building a massive coal-fired power plant and may now be unable to recover much of the cost from rate payers. A new filing from Indiana's utility consumer agency reads like a teacher's withering rebuke of a flunking student. Duke Energy is "woefully unqualified to manage the construction of the power plant," reads the filing. The company's "errors and omissions" led to "disastrous delays and cost overruns." The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor also alleges Duke Energy executives tried to cover up their mismanagement and had secret, illegal conversations with regulators who signed off on the plant's construction. Duke Energy's new coal-fired plant in Indiana is nearly complete, but the total price tag is nearly $1 billion more than the original estimate of $1.98 billion. An agreement to pass much of those extra costs on to customers fell apart late last year, after emails surfaced showing unusually cozy dealings between Duke and state regulators. The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor now says Duke Energy should not be allowed to stick its ratepayers with any of the cost overruns for the plant. A coalition of consumer advocates has petitioned the state to go even further in punishing Duke. Kerwin Olson is with the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana. "We don't think Duke Energy should have a blank check to collect the $1.985 billion from ratepayers because we stand by our original position that the plant never should have been approved in the first place," says Olson. Duke Energy maintains the new plant is an important part of modernizing its electric system. The company said in a statement it has "diligently managed the project" and will respond to allegations of mismanagement in its own regulatory testimony. Those allegations include the assertion that Duke Energy "through arrogance or incompetence, has unnecessarily cost ratepayers millions of dollars and has set back the public's trust in (Indiana's) regulatory process."