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NIPSCO gas mains

Natural gas mains await installation in Munster during a project last year.  

Times file photo

The state agency that represents consumers' interests in utility rate cases is collecting comments regarding Northern Indiana Public Service Co.'s request to raise its natural gas base rate about 20 percent for the typical residential customer.

The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor will include public comments in testimony it plans to submit to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission in January.

A customer using 69 therms a month would see an average monthly increase of about $10, to a total of $60, according to NIPSCO. For all customers, the average increase would be just shy of 23 percent.

The IURC is expected to rule on the NIPSCO case next summer. If approved, the rate increase would take effect in two phases, the first in 2018 and the second in 2019.

NIPSCO estimates the increase would generate $143.5 million annually. The increase impacts the portion of the gas bill covering capital, maintenance, operations and expenses other than purchase of natural gas.

NIPSCO, which has 820,000 customers in 32 counties, argues that the increase is warranted in light of $400 million in system upgrades to improve safety and reliability in its 17,800 miles of pipelines, with further infrastructure upgrades planned.

The base natural gas rate has not been raised in more than 25 years, according to the company.

"This proposal seeks to strike the right balance of cost and service in order to continue delivering on our commitments to customers," NIPSCO President Violet Sistovaris said when the company filed the case in September.

Other parties that intend to file testimony, according to the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, include industrial customers Arcelor Mittal, Arconic, BP, Cargill, Fiat Chrysler, General Motors, NLMK Indiana, Praxair, U.S. Steel and USG.

The IURC will hold several public hearings on the case, the first in Fort Wayne on Dec. 11. A Northwest Indiana hearing will be held in Lake County, but hasn't yet been scheduled.

The OUCC is conducting its own legal and technical reviews of the NIPSCO case, in addition to collecting public comments. Anyone wishing to submit a comment to the OUCC may do so in one of three methods:

• By mail to Consumer Service Staff, Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, 115 W. Washington St., Suite 1500 South, Indianapolis, IN 46204.

• By email to uccinfo@oucc.IN.gov.

• By fax to 317-232-5923.

Commenters should reference IURC Cause No. 44988 in their submissions.

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Transportation reporter

Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.