Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Local News

March 2, 2011

Rate increase request draws 100 to hearing

Kokomo — State regulators heard a dissonant mixture of adulation for Duke Energy’s corporate citizenship and disgust with a proposed 19 percent electricity rate hike at Tuesday’s field hearing in Kokomo, as they continue gathering evidence on the Edwardsport power plant project.

Four of the five members of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission were on hand to hear more than three hours of testimony for and against Duke’s latest request to pass along costs from the estimated $2.88 billion project.

At issue is whether Duke will be able to pass along another $530 million of that project’s cost to ratepayers, who are already on the hook — and are currently paying — some $2.35 billion.

Originally capped by the IURC at $1.95 billion, the project has been plagued by cost overruns. Further muddying the waters has been an ongoing ethics scandal involving alleged improper contacts between IURC and Duke officials. The former head of the IURC and three Duke executives have lost their positions in the wake of that scandal.

“It is obvious that one, they knew or should have known from the start how much this was going to cost,” said Doug Smith, an engineer at Rochester Metal Products, a Rochester foundry.

“It was either gross mismanagement or unethical behavior that led to where we are now, so to what extent should the ratepayers have to pick up the tab?”

Smith said his company stands to see its monthly electricity bill rise from $30,000 to “over $100,000” if the full cost of the project is passed along to ratepayers by the IURC.

He said if that happens, “Our ability as a company to remain competitive will be seriously in doubt.”

But the testimony at Tuesday’s hearing, which was an official proceeding of the state’s utility court, was balanced by numerous officials testifying on Duke’s behalf.

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