Only a few showed up in the rain on Tuesday night, January 23rd for the public hearing to comment on the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) proposal to increase prices for its natural gas customers.
But those who came to the meeting at Purdue University in Hammond had a lot to say about the utility’s plan to increase revenues by $161.9 million to keep up with operating and maintenance costs, and infrastructure improvements.
If the rate hike is approved, it will show up in customer’s monthly bills in 2 ways. Residential customers will see at least an $8 minimum or a 10.6 percent increase in their monthly bill for gas usage. And they will see a $9.25 increase in their monthly customer charge, going from $16.25 a month to $25.50 per month.
Because NIPSCO is a regulated utility, it can only increase customers’ prices when it gets approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.
Commissioners from the IURC and representatives from the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC) hosted the meeting and recorded comments from the public that will be used as testimony when the IURC makes its decision. The OUCC represents the public when a utility wants to adjust its rates.
The rate increase is across all NIPSCO service areas – residential, commercial and industrial. Only the residential customers attended; they didn’t comment about their service, just the cost of it.
June Johnson, a retired Gary educator, was among the residential customers at the hearing asking the IURC and OUCC to deny the rate increases. “Prices are rising on everything, but my income isn’t. This will affect us, especially in the winter months when we use more gas,” Johnson said.
“I am in an organization and we are trying to bring back the arts. We’re finding it difficult, because parents are saying they just don’t have the money for their students to participate in programs like that. They can’t save anything. It’s paycheck to paycheck,” Johnson said.
Veronica McGill, another retiree, said she lives on a small pension and social security after 34 years in the workforce. “I’m concerned about how this increase will affect me and others like me. My other concern is that while you see the minimum wage increasing across the United States, Indiana is still at $7.25 an hour. So let’s consider those people. This state has not seen the need to increase the minimum wage to a livable working wage,” McGill said.
Gary Branch NAACP President Steve Mays wants to see the rate increase shifted to corporate industrial customers. “At least 200 of our members have called to complain about the impact. They’re making choices whether to heat or eat,” Mays said. “Taking a rate increase now is not good, for seniors and others trying to get back on their feet.”
“I am opposed to this increase and I’m asking this commission to deny it. There was an increase a couple of years ago,” said Susie Talevfki.
The IURC approved a gas price hike for NIPSCO in 2022. The utility had asked for a $9 per month or 17 percent increase in usage; it asked to increase the monthly customer charge from $14 to $24.50. The IURC granted the utility a $6 per month or 10% increase for usage; it granted a $16.33 monthly charge.
“You guys are repeat offenders in terms of trying to gouge more money out of the average citizen here in the state of Indiana. It’s pretty outrageous; the increase would be actually more than regular inflation,” Talevfki added.
Joining the OUCC on behalf of consumers are the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, Direct Energy, Locals 12775 and 13796 of the United Steelworkers, and industrial customers.
The IURC will make its decision on NIPSCO’s request to adjust customer rates similar to proceedings in trial court cases.
The OUCC shows a timeline, beginning with the closing of public comment on January 27.
On January 31, the OUCC will file its recommendations on NIPSCO’s request. The IURC will hear NIPSCO rebuttal testimony starting February 28. On March 18, IURC will hold an evidentiary hearing with cross examinations of technical witnesses.
Closing briefs will be held in April and May. An IURC decision is expected in Summer 2024.