Indiana legislation gets shout out at NiSource annual meeting

2013-05-14T07:15:00Z 2013-05-15T11:11:12Z Indiana legislation gets shout out at NiSource annual meetingBy Keith Benman, (219) 933-3326

NiSource Inc. CEO Robert Skaggs told shareholders at the company's annual meeting Tuesday the company will continue with its infrastructure-based growth strategy and highlighted recent Indiana legislation that will help make that possible.

“Across the entire NiSource footprint, which is a national footprint … we want to continue to improve and do better via employment, capital investment, customer service, community outreach,” Skaggs said.

The CEO emphasized 2012 was a “watershed year” for the Merrillville-headquartered company, with NiSource passing the $9 billion mark in total market value.

In remarks to a Times reporter before the meeting at the InterContinental Chicago O'Hare, Skaggs said the company's NIPSCO subsidiary will file by this summer a seven-year capital improvement plan called for in the Indiana legislation.

That plan will include modernization of both its distribution system of poles and wires and its high-voltage transmission system.

The filing of the seven-year plan with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission will kick off a regulatory process that will include opportunities for input from all stakeholders including customers, Skaggs said.

The only shareholder to speak at the general comment portion of the meeting was LaPorte attorney Shaw Friedman, who in the past has represented several governments in disputes with NIPSCO.

He challenged NiSource to issue a report on how much money NIPSCO contributes to charity and economic development in northern Indiana, as well as its use of vendors there. He alleged the amounts do not measure up to what utilities elsewhere contribute.

“The 'N-I' in the company named NiSource stands for Northern Indiana, and yet this company seems to be moving further away from its roots,” Friedman said. “And your Hoosier customers and shareholders sense that.”

Skaggs responded that Friedman's suggestion for a report on NIPSCO's local spending and giving would be taken under consideration and ventured Friedman would be satisfied with the company's response.

Tuesday's morning meeting also saw the passing of the baton for board chairman. Former Caterpillar Inc. executive Richard Thompson took up the seat of company chairman, succeeding Indiana business legend Ian Rolland. Rolland is retiring after more than 35 years on the board of NiSource and its predecessor company, NIPSCO Industries.

All NiSource directors stand for election each year at the annual meeting and the company's slate of 11 was re-elected, with 88 percent of shares voting in the election voting in favor of the slate.

In an advisory vote on executive compensation, 96 percent of shares voting were in favor of the compensation detailed in the NiSource proxy statement for 2012.

Stockholders also voted on two stockholder proposals, both of which were opposed by the company.

A proposal to allow stockholders to give written consent outside of stockholder meetings for actions that normally need to be approved at meetings was defeated when 60 percent of shares voting voted against it.

Shareholders also defeated a proposal to end the practice of benchmarking CEO pay against that of other companies, with 93 percent of shares voting giving a thumbs down to that proposal.

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