News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

September 16, 2011

Wabash River Power plant facing uncertain future

New environmental laws may force Duke Energy to close several power units by 2014

TERRE HAUTE — Facing new stricter environmental requirements for aging electrical utilities, Duke Energy will likely close five power units at the Wabash River Station north of West Terre Haute as early as 2014.

Duke Energy on Wednesday informed several Terre Haute business leaders about the closure.

“Because some of our plants are aging and dependent on coal, we expect to retire some generating units. While we haven’t made any final decisions, Wabash River Station units 2, 3, 4 and 5 in West Terre Haute are likely to be closed and Unit 6 may be as well,” the note states.

“Unit 1 is owned by the Wabash Valley Power Association and SG Solutions, and it is powered by the synthesis gas produced at the adjacent gasification plant. It would not be affected by any decision we make,” said a Duke Energy message that was provided to the Tribune-Star.

Duke Energy spokeswoman Angeline Protogere said Thursday the company is watching the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new Hazardous Air Pollutant rules due to be finalized in November. “While we haven’t made any final decisions, our units at Wabash River Station are likely to be retired earlier than expected,” she said.

Because Duke Energy is a member of a regional power grid supplier, Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, some units at the Wabash Generating Station could be retired as early as 2014, Protogere said, even though new federal environmental rules would not be effective until 2015,

“We will still own the plant site, so it’s possible there may be new generating units constructed there one day. It’s usually difficult to find locations for new power generation, so the site is a option we’ll consider for future generation,” Protogere said.

Duke Energy’s new Edwardsport power plant near Vincennes is nearly 95 percent complete and would help meet the need for more power generation, along with a plan to assume more ownership in a natural-gas power plant in Vermillion County.

The Wabash River Station was completed between 1953 and 1968. Power Units 2, 3 and 4 — each 90 megawatts — went online in 1953, 1954 and 1955, respectively. The 103-megawatt Unit 5 and 342-megawatt Unit 6 went online in 1968.

Three units at the power plant were shut down in 2009 as part of a federal order from the U.S. District Court for Southern Indiana; however, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago overturned that ruling in October 2010, allowing Duke Energy to restart the power units.

While the power units were down, Duke Energy upgraded its transmission lines to bring in power from its systemwide transmission grid. That included installation of a $2.5 million 345,000-volt transformer. The 216-ton transformer is at Duke’s Dresser substation.

Duke Energy has about 100 employees and 40 full-time contractors at the Wabash River Station. Protogere said it is “too early for us to speculate on workforce impacts, but we are committed to keeping our workforce updated as the environmental rules and our plans are finalized.”

What impact the closure of the Wabash River Station could have on Duke Energy’s electric power rates would not be known until at least early next year.

“Before the end of the year, we will file a petition that creates a docket at the Indiana Utility Regulator Commission for our environmental compliance case and plans. By early next year, we will file testimony in that case. That will have a lot more information about what retrofits we have to make systemwide... and more details as it relates to rate impact,” Protogere said.

Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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