Most NIPSCO budget customers get break on bill

2009-05-29T00:00:00Z Most NIPSCO budget customers get break on billKeith Benman
keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326
nwitimes.com

A dramatic drop in the price of natural gas since last year means many customers on NIPSCO's BudgetPlan will see a decrease in their monthly utility bill.

About 78 percent of the 213,843 customers enrolled in NIPSCO's BudgetPlan will see their monthly bill amount adjusted downward starting with their June bill, according to the utility. That new bill amount will hold for 12 months for many customers and at least six months for others.

"Fortunately for our customers, the cost of natural gas on the wholesale market has dropped considerably since last year, and the adjustments being made are a direct result of that trend," said Colleen Reilly, NIPSCO director of communications and public affairs.

NIPSCO is now charging 36 cents per therm of natural gas as compared to a high of $1.72 last July, which is about a 79 percent drop. That is the lowest price paid by NIPSCO customers in the last seven years.

That follows a drop in natural gas prices on the NYMEX exchange to about $3.95 per million British thermal units from more than $13 last July, according to U.S. Energy Information Agency and NYMEX data.

Customers on NIPSCO's traditional monthly billing plan, where customers are charged for each month's actual use, already have experienced significant drops in their bills.

This year, because of the steep drop in natural gas prices, some BudgetPlan customers will see a drop of as much as $100 in their monthly charge, NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer said. Preliminary estimates show a median drop of about $50. The small percentage of customers experiencing increases are generally seeing increases of $50 or less, Meyer said.

NIPSCO touts the BudgetPlan as one of the best ways for customers to manage their monthly bills.

The BudgetPlan eliminates the surprise for customers when they open their utility bill, as they pay an equal amount every month during the course of a year, Reilly said.

Unlike unregulated "fixed-price" and other plans offered by utilities and some third-party marketers, no premium fee is charged for NIPSCO's BudgetPlan.

In May of each year, NIPSCO reviews each customer account to determine whether or not the budget amount customers have paid reflects the actual amount of gas used. If a customer's budget amount was set higher or lower than the amount of gas actually used in the past year, the difference is averaged over the next 12 months.

For some customers, a "true-up" is done after six months. The budget amount covers both gas and electric use.

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