« Courts - More on: "In Iowa, Voters Oust Judges Over Marriage Issue" | Main | Law - "$103 million verdict against Baker & McKenzie" »

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Ind. Gov't. - "Duke CEO denies any inappropriate contact between utility and former regulatory official" [Updated]

Updating yesterday's ILB entry, here is a report in the LCJ based on Indianapolis Star and AP dispatches. It begins:

INDIANAPOLIS — Duke Energy's top executive told an Indiana regulatory commission Wednesday that he's confident the panel's former top attorney exerted no influence on decisions regarding the $3 billion coal gasification plant the utility is building.

Duke chief executive Jim Rogers appeared before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to discuss an ethics dispute involving the Charlotte, N.C.-based company and Indiana regulators.

Former commission general counsel Scott Storms faces an ethics complaint for continuing to preside over some matters involving the utility while seeking a job with the company.

Rogers says he believes Storms didn't influence any decisions regarding Duke and its Edwardsport plant and that there was no inappropriate contact regarding the plant.

The state inspector general’s office filed a complaint last month alleging that Storms broke state ethics law by having a financial interest in the outcome of cases involving Duke while he pursued a job with the company. Storms in July approved Duke’s request to have its customers pay for cost overruns on the plant.

[Updated at 4:51 pm] A later Star story is headed: "Consumer office continues to back Duke's coal-gasification plant construction." Some quotes:
The Indiana state office that represents the interests of utility consumers said it continues to support Duke Energy Corp.'s massive coal-gasification plant in Edwardsport, despite the project's soaring costs.

David Stippler, Indiana's utility consumer counselor, told state regulators Wednesday that Indiana will need more electrical power in coming years, and that Duke's plan to tap into the state's abundant coal reserves is still the right way to go. * * *

Stippler said shutting down the construction project now, as some environmental groups are demanding, would be irresponsible. He said the state's economic growth depends on using local coal "God gave us" to provide power.

"I think those would be terrible sins to commit. . . . I think it would be unforgivable," said Stippler, who was appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The plant's cost has soared from an original estimate of $1.6 billion to $2.9 billion, much of which will be passed along to customers in the form of higher electric bills. * * *

Meanwhile, a coalition of environmental and citizens groups called on the IURC to launch an investigation into whether Duke committed fraud, concealed facts or committed gross mismanagement in allowing the plant's costs to skyrocket. If so, the costs incurred to build the plant should not be passed along to customers, said Michael Mullett, an attorney representing the Sierra Club, Citizens Action Coalition, Save the Valley and Valley Watch.

He said the plant's costs have soared to nearly $5,000 per kilowatt hour of generating capacity, which would make it one of the most expensive fossil fuel power plants ever.

And that cost could rise an additional 30 percent if Duke eventually adds technology to capture and dispose of carbon dioxide. Duke, one of the nation's largest corporate emitters of carbon, has said the plant is expected to emit about 4 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, and it is still studying ways to capture and store the emissions, although it has no immediate plans to do so.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 4, 2010 10:58 AM
Posted to Indiana Government