The smokestakes of CenterPoint Energy's A.B. Brown Generating Station can be seen in the distance behind its coal ash pond in Posey County near Evansville. Staff photo by Marlena Sloss
The smokestakes of CenterPoint Energy's A.B. Brown Generating Station can be seen in the distance behind its coal ash pond in Posey County near Evansville. Staff photo by Marlena Sloss
EVANSVILLE – Hundreds of letters were sent to the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor opposing a proposed CenterPoint Energy project that would result in rate increases for its customers. 

CenterPoint is seeking permission from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to build two natural-gas combustion turbines at an estimated cost of $323 million to replace its coal-fueled A.B. Brown power plant.

The cost would ultimately be recovered in consumer's electric rates and the utility estimates it could add up $23 a month to customer electric bills.

Some of the letters were pages long, laying out issues with environmental impact and questioning CenterPoint's own plan for renewables by 2030.

More:Customers voice cost, climate concerns at CenterPoint Energy rate hike hearing

Others were handwritten on notebook paper and told personal stories about how a rate increase would negatively impact their families. 

And some were no more than a couple sentences long. 

"No one can afford that gas hike of $23 per bill. Do not allow it to happen." 

Directly addressing the request to build the turbines, OUCC senior economist Peter Boerger recommended denial of the project. 

"While it is important to ensure utilities have adequate resources to maintain reliability, rates that are higher than needed can unnecessarily affect the affordability of those rates for Indiana consumers and the competitiveness of the state's businesses," he said.

Boerger instead recommended CenterPoint explore converting the A.B. Brown to use natural gas. 

"Now is not the time to make major investments in natural gas infrastructure that will require 30 years to be fully recovered," he stated. 

The recommendation is echoed throughout other OUCC testimony, including that of utility analyst Anthony Alvarez. 

Alvarez stated CenterPoint has decided to not select a plan to extend the life of its current assets, but to instead retire and replace high-performance generators with expensive turbines. 

CenterPoint already has the overall highest residential rates of the five Indiana investor-owned utilities, and has the smallest customer base at 140,000 ratepayers. 

"As a smaller-sized electric utility with ratepayers already paying high electric rates, (CenterPoint) should consider its ratepayers’ diminished capacity to carry the additional burden of paying for big ticket items such as the acquisition of new generation," Alvarez stated. 

More:Here's why your CenterPoint natural gas bill will double this winter, and how to get help

Also, in the same request as the natural gas turbines, CenterPoint has asked for approval to build two new "small ponds" — one at the A.B. Brown in Posey County and one at its F.B. Culley plant in Warrick County, at a cost of $19 million, plus a $12 million loading facility on the Ohio River for transporting dry fly ash for reuse instead of disposal.

Testimony from Senior Utility Analyst Cynthia Armstrong recommended denial of those pond compliance projects and approval for the dry ash compliance project. 

Armstrong testified that if the IURC were to approve the pond projects, she recommends CenterPoint shareholders be responsible for 50% of the costs. 

"This recognizes that even though its (coal combustion residuals) obligations were known to be pending many years ago, CenterPoint unreasonably delayed decisions," she stated, "and has now submitted speculative cost estimates that could result in higher costs for consumers.

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