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Column: Regulators must not pass buck


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The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission will soon make a decision that will affect the lives and livelihoods of all of us here in Columbus and all of Duke Energy’s other 700,000-plus customers for the next 30 years and beyond.

This decision is whether to revoke or modify the previously issued Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) for the 618 megawatt Edwardsport Coal Gasification Project currently expected to be completed in mid-2013.

Duke, the state Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, and two groups of large industrial customers have requested the commission to:

  • Modify the current Edwardsport CPCN to increase the project cost that can be included in Duke’s future rate base to approximately $2.65 billion, as well as to require customers to pay financing costs during project construction exceeding an additional $650 million.
  • Reject serious allegations and substantial evidence of imprudence, gross mismanagement, concealment and fraud on the project, as well as to foreclose any investigation of improper communications, undue influence, conflicts of interest, and other misconduct that have occurred during the regulatory review of the project.
  • Ignore the 4 million tons of carbon dioxide that Edwardsport is projected to emit each year it operates as planned.

Thankfully, the Sierra Club, Citizens Action Coalition, Save the Valley and Valley Watch are fighting this request. These groups believe that this flawed proposal is no way to resolve the Edwardsport fiasco because it requires Duke customers to shell out far too much money and does nothing to restore the public’s shaken confidence in our public officials’ integrity.

Any fair resolution must put the burden on Duke shareholders, not innocent Duke customers, to pay the costs of the incompetence and mismanagement exhibited by Duke throughout this sorry saga. Any real resolution must ensure that Duke is obliged to offset the extra carbon pollution that the Edwardsport facility will produce over its lifetime — and vague, nonbinding promises to use untested carbon sequestration technology do not count.

Finally, any true resolution must get to the bottom of the improper and unethical behavior exhibited by Duke and state officials throughout the project. Decisive steps must be taken by the IURC to insure such behavior never happens again.

As a longtime Columbus resident who is also a life member of Sierra Club and a founding member of Citizens Action Coalition, I have followed Edwardsport closely since its inception and can assure you that, as the club and the coalition have said, the project is truly a monument to cost overruns, concealment, mismanagement and malfeasance. Thus, I strongly support the citizens groups’ position and encourage others to do likewise.

If you agree, please tell Consumer Counselor David Stippler, the statutory representative for Duke customers in this matter. He may be contacted by phone toll-free at 1-888-441-2494, by email at dstippler@oucc.in.gov, or by mail at David Stippler, Utility Consumer Counselor, PNC Center, 115 W. Washington St., Suite 1500 South, Indianapolis, Indiana 46204.

Columbus attorney Michael (Mike) Mullett serves as senior counsel for Mullett & Associates, an Indiana-based law and policy consulting firm with a practice limited to consultation from a public interest perspective on matters of energy, utility, environmental and land use law.

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