Indiana Utility Dealing With 6-Month Shutdown Of Power Plant

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Equipment troubles have kept a three-year-old natural gas power plant offline since spring and complicated a major Indiana utility company’s goal of shifting from coal-burning plants to generate electricity.

AES Indiana’s Eagle Valley plant near Martinsville ran into problems in late April when crews were restarting it after a planned maintenance outage, the company told the state utility commission.

Six months later, the plant that cost $600 million to build is still offline while work continues on repairing a wide range of damage to critical parts that will be completed by mid-November at the earliest, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported.

AES Indiana, which provides electricity to some 500,000 homes and businesses in Indianapolis and surrounding areas, has had to buy electricity off the power grid because of the Eagle Valley outage and trouble at an older coal-burning plant.

AES Indiana, formerly known as Indianapolis Power & Light Co., is undergoing a gradual shift to cleaner natural gas-powered plants and renewable electricity sources, including several large solar farms. The company called the breakdown at Eagle Valley an “isolated situation” and said the plant had an excellent operating record for more than two years.

“In addition to the excellent performance as shown by its historic availability, it has contributed to overall emissions reductions for the entire AES Indiana fleet,” company spokeswoman Kelly Young wrote in an email. “Once this isolated situation is remedied, the plant will return to generating the cost-effective, environmentally friendly energy our customers deserve.”

Repair costs for the Eagle Valley plant, located about 20 miles southwest of Indianapolis, are estimated at more than $6 million, which AES Indiana said it will not pass along to customers.

But some consumer advocates and environmentalists are opposing the company’s request to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to charge customers for its additional costs of buying electricity from outside sources during the shutdown, which the company estimates would be about $1 extra on the average bill.

“Customers should not bear 100% of the risk associated with running a utility company,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, a consumer advocacy group. “Customers are already paying for the plant in their monthly bills … whether or not the plant runs at all. It’s a matter of fairness. It’s long overdue that the utilities finally share in the risk.”