Edie Hardcastle addresses the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission during public hearing Oct. 13, 2021 in the Old National Events Plaza in Evansville on whether CenterPoint Energy's proposed rate hike should be allowed to pay for replacing its A.B. Brown coal-fueled power plant with natural gas turbines. Staff photo by Denny Simmons
Edie Hardcastle addresses the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission during public hearing Oct. 13, 2021 in the Old National Events Plaza in Evansville on whether CenterPoint Energy's proposed rate hike should be allowed to pay for replacing its A.B. Brown coal-fueled power plant with natural gas turbines. Staff photo by Denny Simmons
EVANSVILLE – CenterPoint Energy customers cited financial and environmental concerns to the utility's proposed gas-fired turbine project in a public hearing by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission on Wednesday night.

The turbines are set to replace the 760-megawatt A.B. Brown Power Plant in Posey County, Indiana, which CenterPoint  says it will retire in October 2023 at an estimated cost of $323 million. 

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That cost would ultimately be recovered from customers through electric rates. CenterPoint has said it could add some $23 per month to the electric bill of an average customer. 

Evansville resident Cory Thacker said he could afford the monthly rate increase, but added he's tired of the pain those increases have caused other community members.

Thacker said 14 years of experience in finance have led him to see first-hand the impact utility payments have on customers. 

"Energy prices are the number-one issue folks have with putting food on the table for their kids," he said. 

According to the most recent Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission survey of residential electric utility rates, CenterPoint's average bill ranked highest among utilities in its jurisdiction. 

Previous coverage:CenterPoint to ask for OK to replace A.B. Brown plant, customer rate hike to cover cost

Thacker urged the IURC to vote against CenterPoint's request, pointing  the local poverty rate of 21.8%. 

"I can tell you right now, first hand, this company is killing residents of Evansville," he said.

Several organizations, such as the Sierra Club, Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana and Sunrise Coal have filed opposition to the request. 

Speaking to the Courier & Press prior to Wednesday's hearing, Wendy Bredhold, senior campaign representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Indiana and Kentucky said a renewable energy portfolio would cost essentially the same as this gas plant.

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Bredhold said the new builds eventually will become obsolete, yet CenterPoint customers will continue to pay the costs. 

"The last thing we need when we’re trying to avert a greater climate crisis is to build out more fossil fuel infrastructures," she said. 

The organization will file its expert testimony by Nov. 12 to the IURC, which Bredhold said is meant to stand in for the market in the case of a regulated monopoly such asCenterPoint.

That monopoly came up during testimony Wednesday evening as  a concern for customers. Former Indiana Legal Services attorney Katherine Rybak said she was worried about what provisions would be made for customers already struggling to pay utility bills. 

Rybak said there has to be a balance among the need to upgrade the utility's system with fairness to ratepayers and concern over climate change. The Evansville resident questioned if the gas turbines would be abandoned in less than 10 years as the goal to move to renewables falls within that time.

"You need to look at what CenterPoint has done and analyze it and come to the conclusion that they have put forth a proposal that maximizes their profit, not the reliability and wellbeing of service to the ratepayers," she said.

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