Duke Energy coal-gasification plant’s power lags

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Duke Energy’s $3.5 billion coal-gasification plant generated less than 1 percent of its power capacity during February amid lingering problems with the new plant’s equipment, the company told state regulators in a new report.

Duke Energy disclosed the plant’s latest power generation figures Monday in a filing with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, The Indianapolis Star reported.

That filing said the southwestern Indiana plant produced 1,125 megawatt hours of power using gasified coal in February. That’s less than 1 percent of the more than 415,000 megwatt hours of power the plant near the town of Edwardsport was capable of producing that month at full capacity, said IURC spokeswoman Danielle McGrath.

Duke Energy blamed February’s low power output on “equipment challenges” and a decision to move up the plant’s spring maintenance.

“Because of the outage and maintenance repairs, operations were limited in February, but the early completion of this maintenance work minimizes the amount of planned outage activities later this spring,” Duke spokeswoman Angeline Protogere said in a statement.

The 618-megawatt plant went online in June 2013, but has been plagued by leaking valves, cracked pipes, frozen machinery and other problems.

Protogere said the plant ramped up production in March to about 44 percent of its maximum capacity through gasified coal. Duke Energy is required to file monthly output figures for gasified coal with the IURC.

The plant also uses natural gas, but those figures aren’t submitted monthly to the state.

Duke Energy last year estimated that it would take 15 months for the plant to reach maximum output as technical issues are worked out. The plant is one of the world’s largest coal-gasification plants, and generates electricity by converting coal into a synthetic gas that’s burned in a traditional turbine power plant.

The plant had an original 2007 cost estimate of $1.9 billion, but that eventually ballooned to about $3.5 billion, making it one of the most expensive construction projects in Indiana history.

Environmental and citizens’ groups have asked regulators to launch a formal investigation into the problems and delays that have sharply limited the plant’s power output. Those groups also say Duke Energy ratepayers should not continue paying for a plant that’s not up to speed.

“The ratepayers of Duke Energy should not be mandated to bear the risks and most of the costs of this boondoggle,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition.

The Office of Utility Consumer Counselor has said the plant consumed more energy than it produced late last year. The office is asking the IURC to examine Duke’s request last month for customers to cover $1.5 million related to Edwardsport expenses.

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