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NIPSCO

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission held a public hearing Wednesday in Merrillville regarding NIPSCO"s proposed natural gas rate increase.

MERRILLVILLE — Four residents spoke against a proposed NIPSCO natural gas rate hike at a public hearing Wednesday, arguing the increase would benefit a profitable company unnecessarily, while harming struggling families.

The increase would add an average of about $10 per month to a regular residential customer's bill.

"If you choose to raise the rates, you will be forcing families to choose between heat and other necessities," Gary resident Corey Hagelberg said. "I implore you to spend some time thinking about those who this will affect."

Gary resident Helene Servin said utility bills were unaffordable for some residents. "There is just something humanely not right about this," she said.

Patawatomi Park resident Robert Johnson said he was suspicious of the need for an increase of more than 20 percent.

"All you really would do is raise the cost of a product people can't afford not to buy," he said. Meanwhile, he said, NIPSCO was "doing quite well" financially.

Both Johnson and Sierra Club representative Ashley Williams argued the company should be investing in renewable energy, rather than "outdated fossil fuels."

Vanessa Allen McCloud, president and CEO of the Urban League of Northwest Indiana, spoke to compliment NIPSCO and the support it provides the Urban League and community.

The $10 per month increase is based on a residential customer using an average of 69 therms per month, now paying $50. The increase would come in two phases, the first in mid-2018 and the second in early 2019.

The price increase impacts the "base rate" charged for natural gas — essentially the portion funding the gas distribution system's infrastructure and operations.

The increase would bring in an additional $143.5 million annually, according to NIPSCO. The company argues it's necessary to finance $400 million in upgrades to its distribution system as well as increased labor and material costs associated with infrastructure and service improvements.

The base rate hasn't increased in 25 years, according to NIPSCO, and was decreased slightly in 2010.

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

Among the parties intending to file testimony are the NIPSCO Industrial Group, which includes Northwest Indiana companies ArcelorMittal USA, BP Products North America, Cargill, NLMK Indiana, Praxair, U.S. Steel and USG.

The consumer-protection group Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana and a NIPSCO Gas Supplier Group representing companies that sell gas to NIPSCO also intend to comment.

Documents related to NIPSCO's rate case are available through the IURC's electronic document system at iurc.portal.in/gov/searchlegalcase. Search for case number 44988.

For NIPSCO's description of the rate case, visit nipsco.com/rates.

The OUCC intends to file its testimony in the rate case on Jan. 24. A ruling on the case is expected this summer.

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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.