Since the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission initially approved the project in November 2007, Edwardsport’s journey has been long and winding and not without controversy. The baseload plant’s estimated cost has increased by more than $1 billion from the $1.975 billion originally endorsed by the IURC. Several high-ranking state and Duke officials lost their jobs in an ethics scandal involving the project.

Edwardsport has enjoyed strong support from Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and the coal industry, which views IGCC technology and its potential to capture carbon dioxide emissions as providing a necessary roadmap for future coal plants in the United States.

Duke spokeswoman Angeline Protogere said Edwardsport’s late October coal testing represented an important step to helping the company determine when the plant can be connected commercially to the grid and begin generating electricity full time. Duke had hoped that would happen by this fall, but the timetable has been pushed back to sometime next year—the company is not saying exactly when.

Prior to the coal testing, the plant successfully produced electricity using natural gas. When coal is converted into a synthetic gas, it is sent to the gas turbines where it is burned to make electricity. However, if the syngas does not meet certain standards, it is diverted to the gas flare tower on the plant property in rural Knox County, where it is ignited and burned safely. The gas flare also is used during each startup and shutdown of the plant.

Edwardsport Plant Manager Jack Stultz cautioned area residents that when the flare is activated, it does not mean there is an emergency at the plant. Gas flare events are expected during the testing and startup process over the next several months, he said. The plant also will use the flare during regular commercial service, but it should not be as frequent as during testing and startup.

Edwardsport marks the first new coal-based power plant built in Indiana in several decades and is a key part of Duke’s effort to modernize the state’s aging electric system. A 160-mw, half-century-old coal plant at the site was taken out of service during the past year.

Duke Energy Indiana, a subsidiary of Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy, owns about 6,800 mw of generating capacity, mostly coal-fired, and is the Midwestern state’s largest electric utility with more than 750,000 customers.