CenterPoint customers in seven southern Indiana counties could see a three-month rate hike next year as the utility seeks approval for a fuel cost adjustment.
CenterPoint Energy Indiana South filed a petition with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission on Nov. 16 that, if approved, would increase monthly electric bills by approximately $13.20 for February, March and April for its approximately 150,000 customers in southern Indiana would allow.
The amount is based on the average energy consumption of an Indiana household, which is 1,000 kilowatts per hour. The utility serves seven counties: Pike, Gibson, Dubois, Posey, Vanderburgh, Warrick, and Spencer counties.
The rate increase request comes after the utility was forced to buy power from the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) network, largely because a coal-fired power plant became inoperable after a turbine failed, according to the partially-redacted testimony of CenterPoint vice president of power generation operations Wayne Games.
The turbine failed on June 24, leaving CenterPoint’s Culley Unit 3 inoperative for the remainder of 2022. Games also testified that volatile fuel costs for the coal-fired power plant were also a reason CenterPoint filed the petition.
Kerwin Olson, executive director of consumer protection group Citizens Action Coalition, said utility customers should not be expected to collect the backup power bill when a facility goes offline.
“That always annoys consumer advocates because the tariff payers continue to pay for the power plant,” said Olson. “So you’re paying for a power plant that’s not producing power, and at the same time you’re being forced to pay for backup power because the power plant isn’t working.”
The most disappointing and frustrating aspect of the petition, Olson said, is that most of the information is confidential.
“This is totally unacceptable,” Olson said.
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Games testified that CenterPoint worked with General Electric to find a replacement turbine at a decommissioned coal-fired power plant in Montana. GE will purchase, disassemble and overhaul the turbine from the facility before it is shipped and installed to CenterPoint.
The planned commissioning date for the backup turbine at Culley Unit 3 has been redacted due to the CEI South filing that requested that some information in the testimony be classified as confidential. Games said GE estimated it took 6-12 months from the time the replacement was found and purchased. The cost of work to bring Culley Unit 3 back into service has also been redacted.
During testimony, the commissioners asked Games to explain the benefits of this approach to CEI South’s customers. Games’ entire answer is redacted.
CenterPoint’s request for these redactions states that Games’ testimony contains “competitive trade secrets and proprietary information about critical infrastructure.”
The commission’s decision on CenterPoint’s petition is pending, but Olson said he expects one by January.
Recently, an application for reimbursement from NIPSCO following a fire at its Schaffer unit was denied.
“There have been instances where the commission has refused to cover costs,” Olson said. “Sometimes it was necessary for consumer advocates to step in and submit these applications. It is difficult to say what the Commission would do without stakeholder involvement.”
Karl Schneider is an environmental reporter at IndyStar. You can reach him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @karlstartswithk
IndyStar’s environmental reporting project is made possible through the generous support of the nonprofit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.