Utility board exits come at busy time

2014-01-08T15:30:00Z 2014-01-08T16:20:32Z Utility board exits come at busy timeBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission could soon have two new members, just as it is handling a new type of case that could lead to significant bill increases for utility customers.

Next week, Commissioner Larry Landis will step down in a previously announced resignation. That will make for the second empty seat on the five-member commission following the resignation of Commissioner Kari Bennett in November.

The earliest Gov. Mike Pence could fill the two empty seats at the IURC is in February, after a nominating committee completes its work and forwards the names of six qualified candidates to the governor, according to a statement from the governor's office.

Bennett had been presiding over NIPSCO's July request to undertake $1 billion in electric system improvements and a cumulative 6 percent rate increase by 2020 to pay for them. Upon her resignation, IURC Chairman James Atterholt took over the case.

However, the NIPSCO case was just the first in what is expected to be a steady stream of such requests from investor-owned utilities after the passage of Senate Bill 560 by the Indiana General Assembly in the spring.

The legislation allows the state's utilities to propose seven-year improvement plans along with surcharges on customer bills to pay for them. The bill also requires the IURC to issue an order in the cases within seven months of their filing, which is an unusually tight deadline for major utility cases, which sometimes take years to settle.

NIPSCO followed its July request with one in October for $713 million in upgrades of its natural gas delivery system and a cumulative 10 percent rate increase. In November, southern and central Indiana utility Vectren filed a similar request for $865 million in natural gas system improvements.

Similar to what was done with the NIPSCO electric improvement case, any other cases being presided over by Bennett and Landis have now been handed off to other commissioners, according to IURC spokeswoman Danielle McGrath.

Commissioners make a salary of $109,830 per year, according to the State Personnel Department. The chairman makes $114,902. The application posted online for the job does not list any particular qualifications. It does ask applicants to list college degrees and any utility-related experience.

The nominating committee is now taking applications to fill the two openings. Applications must be submitted by the close of business on Jan. 21, according to the statement from the governor's office. A public meeting will be held by the committee to interview candidates on Jan. 31.

Whoever replaces Bennett would serve until the expiration of her term on March 31, unless the governor chooses to wait until that time to make the appointment. The person replacing Landis would serve until Dec. 31, 2015.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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