The Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) filed its previously
announced natural gas rate case on Monday with the Indiana Utility
Regulatory Commission (IURC).
Although the case is designed to be revenue neutral—NIPSCO would not earn
higher gas revenues if the IURC approves it—it would increase the average
residential customer’s monthly gas bill by 2.65 percent or $1.67.
That’s because industrial and commercial customers would see their rates
decline somewhat, NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer told the Chesterton Tribune
today. “We’re not increasing revenues but we are adjusting the rate
structure to make it more fair and balanced across customer classes,” he
said. “It’s been more than 20 years since NIPSCO changed the base rate and
in that time industrial and commercial customers have been paying more than
their average share.”
Or as NIPSCO Executive Vice-president Jimmy Staton said in a statement
released on Monday, “NIPSCO customers have the lowest gas bills in Indiana
and we want to continue offering the lowest bills under this
proposal. We realize any increase is challenging, which is why we also are
seeking approval to extend some of our most successful programs helping our
customers reduce gas usage and lower their monthly bills.”
But if residential customers would pay slightly more under the adjustment,
they would also get a better idea of exactly how their actual usage affects
their monthly bill. That’s because the rate case would establish a regular
flat charge for the delivery portion of the bill—around $20—in place of the
currently variable charge, Meyer said.
There are three basic components in every monthly bill, Meyer explained: gas
usage, the single largest portion of the bill, based on a customer’s actual
usage; pipeline and transportation, the smallest component of the bill,
which Meyer likened to the tolls paid by motorists on turnpikes; and gas
supply, based on NIPSCO’s cost of providing service, which is a
“pass-through cost” but nevertheless fluctuates from month to month under
the present rate structure. The latter, the gas supply component, would
become fixed under the rate case.
The advantage of a flat gas supply charge, Meyer said, is that customers
would “be able see much more clearly how their monthly consumption of
natural gas affects what they pay on their bills.” And by knowing what they
use determines pretty much precisely what they pay, they would have an
increased incentive to conserve gas.
Or as NIPSCO said in the statement released on Monday, “This will offer
customers more predictable bills from month-to-month and an opportunity to
better track their gas use.”
of the Gas Rate Case
The gas rate case also includes proposal for the following:
•Cash incentives for buying energy-efficient gas appliances.
•Energy assistance for income-eligible customers facing financial
•High-efficiency furnace replacement for qualifying low-income households.
•Self-service tools to give customers more control over their energy use and
•Incentive programs for new construction homes meeting ENERGY STAR
•Energy efficiency education for local schools to create “future energy-wise
In addition, “NIPSCO has made a decision to reduce security deposit
requirements for low-income customers,” the statement said. “The change will
be implemented in the fall of this year—separately from the rate case—to
coincide with the Energy Assistance Program start-up date for the winter
NIPSCO expects the IURC to compete its review of the gas rate case by “early
2011 or sooner.”
Electric Rate Case
Meanwhile, NIPSCO is awaiting the IURC’s decision in an electric rate case
filed in 2008. Should the IURC grant the full 15.6 percent hike which the
company wants to impose on residential customers, the average household’s
bill would increase by $12.76, from $81.68 to $94.44.
Under NIPSCO’s proposal, residential customers would shoulder the greatest
part of the hike, as the overall rate increase sought by the company—when
spread among NIPSCO’s residential, commercial, and industrial
customers—would total only 9.8 percent.
Nearly 88 percent of NIPSCO’s customer base in August 2008 was comprised of
residential households. But those households consume only 20 percent of
NIPSCO’s generated electricity.
For its part the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC) is
actually recommending a $135.2 million reduction in NIPSCO’s annual
electric revenues, to be achieved, however, not by a slash in the rate paid
by customers but by the expiration of monthly residential rate credits
totaling $55 million per year, as ordered by the IURC in a 2002
investigation of the company’s electric rate.
Under the OUCC’s recommendation, “base electric rates paid by NIPSCO
residential customers would remain at or near their current levels,” the
The OUCC is also recommending to the IURC an authorized return on equity of
10 percent, as opposed to NIPSCO’s request for a 12-percent return. At the
moment, NIPSCO’s authorized return on equity is 9.06 percent.
The OUCC is the state agency tasked with representing the interests of
Indiana’s utility consumers.
Electric Rate Case
While NIPSCO awaits the IURC decision in the previously filed electric rate
case, it is also planning to file a second, brand-new electric rate case
sometime in the second half of 2010.
At the moment, the company has not released any details about this second
case but Meyer has said that it’s intended to address the rapid increase of
pension costs, which since 2006 have spiked by a total of $55 million and
which the company continues to absorb.