Chesterton Tribune

Editorial: Brownout or act of God?

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Indiana is not California, and for that small consolation all of us can be truly grateful.

Yet customers of the Northern Indiana Public Service Company may be forgiven for thinking, as they sit in the heat and the dark, that the San Andreas Fault must have recently shifted 2,000 miles to the east.

For on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, Duneland suffered extensive interruptions in its electric service. The skies were clear and the winds were calm, but we suffered interruptions all the same. Eight-hundred customers lost their juice on the first day, 5,000 on the second, and 2,300 on the third. Where were you when the lights went out?

Maybe at WiseWay, where a partial outage caused a three-phase motor running on one phase to smoke and then to burn. The store was evacuated and closed for three hours. Or maybe at Splash Down Dunes, where the water slides went dry. Owner Paul Childress was compelled to refund thousands of dollars in receipts.

By the sheerest of coincidence, the outages occurred on three of the hottest days of the year, during the hottest parts of the day. By coincidence, because NIPSCO assures us that the weather had nothing to do with the outages, that they were blackouts and not brownouts, and that production is keeping pace smartly with consumption. Instead it blames Monday and Tuesday on mechanical malfunctions in a 34,000 volt line and Wednesday on a tree limb which downed a 64,000 volt line.

And when we say that NIPSCO blames the outages on mechanical malfunctions and tree limbs, we mean, of course, that the last thing the company wants customers to think is that it isn’t generating enough power to meet demand in the dog days. So NIPSCO would have us be thankful for the gobs of electricity which we could buy if only the company could deliver it.

As it happens, NIPSCO is on the defense on another front as well. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission has recommended an across-the-board rate decrease of 11.60 percent, on the grounds that the company has been overcharging its customers. NIPSCO, on the other hand, is pushing an increase of 24 percent, on the grounds that its rates have remained unchanged since 1987.

Before a hike of 24 percent or even of 1 percent, the IURC should require NIPSCO to provide satisfactory answers to two questions:

•Can the company demonstrate that its rates in 1987 were not inflated and still are not?

•Can it demonstrate that workforce reductions have had no effect on service and safety, ongoing maintenance and tree trimming, and response times?

Meanwhile, customers still tallying the costs of this week’s outages deserve a complete and detailed account of these three acts of God.

Dunelanders await that explanation. As they await the next interruption in

 

Posted  8/3/2001