SCHERERVILLE │ NIPSCO residential rates will rise if the utility is to meet environmental regulations and modernize its systems, said Jim Stanley, the utility’s executive vice president and group CEO.
Stanley, speaking Friday at the Lake County Advancement Committee meeting at Teibel's Restaurant, said the Merrillville-based utility’s electric and gas systems are 40 to 50 years old.
“They’re functioning OK at this point in time, but over the next five to 10 years they’re going to meet their life end. So we’re reinvesting in our systems a lot, but that costs money and customers are going to bear some of that,” he said.
Stanley, who joined NIPSCO in October, said the utility’s gas rates were the lowest in the state for 13 out of the last 14 months out of about 20 utilities and ranks among the top 5 to 10 percent in the country in terms of having the lowest rates.
On the electric side, Stanley said NIPSCO’s rates are “about in the middle of the road” in the state but below the national average by about 11 cents.
“On the electric side we’re not as low as we’d like to be, but we like to look in terms of a total energy package when we serve customers and we still think we’re one of the lowest around,” Stanley said. “We’re certainly below the national average when it comes to electricity prices.”
Stanley also discussed several projects NIPSCO is undertaking, including on at the Shafer Generating Station in Wheatfield, NIPSCO’s largest source of generation. The station is undergoing a new $500 million project that will meet environmental requirements and allow the utility to continue to use a valuable, low-cost asset, a coal-generating station, to continue to produce power, Stanley said.
A similar $250 million project is beginning at its station in Michigan City.
Major transmission projects are also getting off the ground that will help in the transfer of wind power.
“The good news is there is a lot of wind power being generated,” Stanley said “The bad news is there are not enough places to put it.”
NIPSCO is also investing $90 million over the next three years to automate its meter-reading process.
Meters of residents will be changed out to into a technology that will allow the utility to read a customer’s meter by driving down the street and collecting information instead of having meter-readers standing in front of them.
It was tested recently on a route of 300 meters that were read in about one minute.
“It would normally take us about eight hours to read that,” Stanley said.
Stanley said NIPSCO will save almost $12 million a year in labor costs, but the meter-readers who are being displaced by the new technology will be positioned elsewhere in the utility.
“No one hits the street,” he said.