NIPSCO powers up for the future

2014-03-16T00:00:00Z 2014-03-16T00:56:08Z NIPSCO powers up for the futureBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

Northwest Indiana's lead energy supplier continues to focus on upgrades to build a sustainable future for region industry and homeowners.

In November, NIPSCO began operation of the first  "scrubber" installed at its R.M. Schahfer Generating Station, the first of $739 million in pollution control projects underway at electric generating stations.

The scrubber removes certain pollutants from smokestack emissions, bringing the company into compliance with stricter federal regulations that have led to the closure of coal-fired electric generating plants at other utilities.

“Improving air quality is important, and we have made substantial progress in recent years by diversifying our supply mix and investing in other environmental improvements,” said NIPSCO Chief Operating Officer Mike Finissi as the huge scrubber kicked into action. “We worked diligently to ensure that we completed the project safely, on time and in the most cost-effective way for our customers.”

NIPSCO has 712,000 natural gas customers and 457,000 electric customers in Northern Indiana. It is owned by Merrillville-headquartered NiSource Inc., a Fortune 500 energy company.

A second scrubber at Schahfer Generating Station is slated for completion in fall 2014. The utility expects to complete another scrubber project – at the Michigan City Generating Station – in 2016.

When those projects are completed, NIPSCO will have among the cleanest coal-fired electric generating stations in the state and nation.

In July, NIPSCO became the first utility in the state to take advantage of new legislation allowing utilities to undertake system-wide upgrades while increasing rates gradually to pay for them.

The utility filed a request with state regulators to undertake $1 billion in improving its electric system, including pole replacement and substation upgrades. Three months later, it filed a request to invest $713 million in its natural gas delivery system.

Other planned NIPSCO projects include two high-voltage transmission lines which will be a key link in getting wind power from the places where it is produced to where it is needed. NIPSCO's total investments in the projects will be between $550 million and $700 million.

In total, NIPSCO plans to invest $6 billion in projects, upgrades and improvements by the end of the decade, according to NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer.

Another Northwest Indiana energy supplier completed the largest private infrastructure project ever in the state in December.

The BP Whiting Refinery completed a $4.2 billion upgrade that will allow it to refine more Canadian crude oil, helping to move North America toward energy independence.

As many as 14,000 construction workers descended on the refinery during the multi-year project. It also includes hundreds of million dollars in state-of-the-art environmental equipment for water treatment and air emissions, according to BP Whiting Refinery manager Nick Spencer.

The refinery employs 1,900 workers and spends more than $3 billion annually with outside vendors in Indiana and Illinois.

To start the new year, region propane dealers worked to meet the challenge of a national shortage in the vital fuel, which 500,000 Hoosiers use to heat homes in winter.

Sending trucks as far away as Kansas and Texas, propane dealers reported they were able to keep customers supplied, many of whom have relied on them for generations.

"Basically, you go where there's gas," said Shawn Coady president at Hicksgas, with locations in Lowell and other Northwest Indiana communities. "We've been delivering for 75 years, and I'll do my best to make sure we continue to keep people supplied."

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