CenterPoint left $77 million in equipment from the proposal, the group says

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EVANSVILLE — CenterPoint’s natural gas turbine proposal to state regulators included no more than $77 million in necessary equipment for the project, the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor claimed Monday.

CenterPoint wants to replace its aging AB Brown coal-fired power plant with natural gas turbines and has proposed a $334 million award to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for the work.

However, the Consumer Advisory Office said the actual cost of the project should be 23 percent higher, according to its petition – totaling $411 million – and has asked for a new hearing on the matter so the commissioners can assess the total cost of the project for them customers can reconsider.

CenterPoint has announced it will ask for a price increase to cover the cost of the gas turbines. The utility said monthly bills for customers could increase, but by less than $10. The petition said opponents of the gas turbines asked about the additional equipment costs, but CenterPoint did not respond until after the deadline for submitting evidence at the original hearing.

According to CenterPoint, the controversial equipment was added to AB Brown’s coal blocks this year to keep them operating until the gas turbines are ready and the coal plant can be shut down in October 2023, according to the OUCC’s request for a new hearing.

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The utility also said it did not include the equipment in the total cost of the project because it was destined for AB Brown, although it would be used for the gas turbines when the coal-fired plant shuts down, the OUCC said.

“CenterPoint Energy plans to respond to the OUCC’s petition and will provide additional information at that time. However, we can confidently say that we have remained transparent in this process,” said Erin Merris, a spokeswoman for CenterPoint. “As indicated in our response to the RFI, these costs were necessary for the continued operation of Brown Units 1 and 2 and do not affect the construction of the combustion turbines. The ability to reuse the equipment once we have decommissioned the units is a testament to our financial prudence with our resources.”

The OUCC is representing consumers in matters before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, which on June 28 approved CenterPoint’s application for the gas turbines. The OUCC received more than 2,000 pages of public comments, both in person and in writing, asking that the project be discontinued.

“(The equipment) certainly increases the cost. It’s a significant amount of money,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the nonprofit Consumer Advocacy Coalition, which has also spoken out against CenterPoint’s gas turbines.

The OUCC petition also asked the Supply Commission to reconsider its approval of an interstate natural gas pipeline to supply CenterPoint’s gas turbines. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has not yet approved the construction of the pipeline.

CenterPoint spokeswoman Erin Merris said in June that construction would begin immediately and that the price increase would be requested later in a separate request. She said tariff increases will only come after a tariff review in late 2023.

The company has the highest overall residential rates of Indiana’s five investor-owned utilities. With 140,000 tariff payers, it also has the smallest customer base.

Mark Wilson covers education and the environment at Courier & Press. Contact him at [email protected]

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