NIPSCO gas line modernization

Work crews install new valves for NIPSCO’s natural gas transmission lines in October 2016 along Fisher Avenue in Munster. The project is part of the utility’s natural gas modernization program.

NIPSCO wants to raise its price to deliver natural gas to its customers by 20 percent. 

The Merrillville-based utility said Wednesday it began the process of seeking an increase to its base rates for natural gas service, something it hasn't done in more than 25 years. The company submitted a petition Monday to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission seeking an increase in two phases starting in mid-2018, with the full rate increase in place by early 2019.

If approved, a typical NIPSCO residential customer would see the portion of their monthly bill that covers national gas delivery increase by about $10, according to NIPSCO estimates. This filing has no impact on customers' bills that cover the cost of natural gas. 

The company bases the estimated new delivery charge increase on the average residential customer using 69 therms of natural gas per month and paying $50 today. The increase sought by NIPSCO would raise that monthly cost to $60, or by 20 percent.  

The company said the overall requested increase would raise about $143.5 million annually, funds the company says would help it recoup costs of upgrading gas delivery systems in recent years as well as other associated costs to provide service to its customers today and into the future. 

"This proposal seeks to strike the right balance of cost and service in order to continue delivering on our commitments to customers," said Violet Sistovaris, executive vice president and president at NIPSCO, one of seven energy delivery companies owned by NiSource Inc. 

NIPSCO said it has invested in modernizing its aging distribution system, which serves about 750,000 residential customers and 70,000 businesses in 32 counties across northern Indiana. The company maintains and monitors more than 17,800 miles of natural gas pipelines and has done that without seeking an increase to its delivery rate.

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The IURC's regulatory review process may take up to a year. NIPSCO customers can submit written comments to the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor and offer input at public field hearings and through various consumer advocacy organizations that participate in the regulatory review process, the company said. 

The IURC said Wednesday it has not scheduled any public hearings on NIPSCO's request but will release dates soon. 

Anthony Swinger, spokesman for the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, said his agency will review NIPSCO's request and expects it will file its testimony sometime in January. 

"We'll be using our legal and technical resources to closely examine NIPSCO's request and evidence," he said. 

The company will continue to offer several assistance options for customers who experience difficulty paying bills.

The proposed increase in base gas rates will not affect rates for NIPSCO electric customers, the company said.