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NiSource profits rise by 13.2 percent

The NiSource headquarters is shown on 86th Avenue, in Merrillville. NiSource increased operating earnings in 2016 by 65 percent.

NiSource Inc., the only Fortune 500 company headquartered in Northwest Indiana, reported a $211.3 million profit in the first quarter.

The utility, the parent company of Merrillville-based NIPSCO, grew earnings by 13.2 percent in the first quarter, as compared to the $186.6 million it made in the first quarter of 2016. NiSource earned $0.65 a share over the first three months of the year.

"Our strong first quarter performance reflects continued execution of our infrastructure investment strategy focused on delivering sustained value for our customers and communities," NiSource President and CEO Joseph Hamrock said. "With this strong start to the year and our confidence in our continued execution, we now expect to deliver non-GAAP net operating earnings in the upper half of our 2017 guidance range of $1.12 to $1.18 per share."

NiSource pulled in $416.5 million in the first three months of 2017, a 9.2 percent increase as compared to the $381.4 million it earned during the first quarter of 2016. Net operating earnings totaled $230.6 million, a 16.6 percent increase over the $197.7 million during the same period last year.

The company expects to finish about $1.6 billion and $1.7 billion in investments in utility infrastructure over the course of this year. NiSource also expects to grow its earnings and dividends by 5 percent to 7 percent annually through 2020.

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"With this robust investment and steady earnings and dividend growth projected, NiSource is committed to maintaining its investment grade credit ratings," the company said in a news release. "Standard & Poor's rates NiSource at BBB+, Moody's at Baa2 and Fitch at BBB, all with stable outlooks. As of March 31, 2017, NiSource maintained $789 million in net available liquidity, consisting of cash and available capacity under a credit facility."

NIPSCO is looking to invest about $400 million in its Michigan City Unit 12 and R.M. Schahfer Units 14 and 15 generating facilities if it gets approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, which could come by year's end. The utility continues to work on its ongoing $1.25 billion electric transmission and distribution infrastructure modernization, including $46 million worth of projects that just started in February.

The utility expects to completes its pending 100-mile 345-kV and 65-mile 765-kV projects by the second half of next year, improving the grid serving customers across Northwest Indiana.

NiSource, a member of the Dow Jones Sustainability North America Index, serves about 500,000 electric customers and 3.5 million natural gas customers in seven states. The Merrillville-based company is one of the Region's largest employers, employing about 8,000 workers.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.