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The Journal Gazette

  • Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette Workers with Aldridge Electric Inc., a contractor for American Electric Power, install a new utility pole at Pearl Street and Maiden Lane last week.

Monday, October 09, 2017 1:00 am

Editorial

Charged up: Public can have voice heard on rate-hike proposals

Rate hearing

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission will hold a field hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Grand Wayne Center to collect testimony on a proposed rate hike by Indiana Michigan Power Company.

Comments can also be submitted in writing (by mail, fax or online) to the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, which represents customers in rate-hike requests, for review and filing with the regulatory commission.

To provide comments on a pending rate case, specify the case as clearly as possible by including the utility's name and the IURC cause number (44967 for the I&M request). Include full name, mailing address, email address (if available) and daytime phone number. The deadline for submission is Nov. 2.

Email: uccinfo@oucc.IN.gov

Mail: Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, PNC Center, 115 W. Washington St., Suite 1500 South, Indianapolis, IN 46204

Fax: (317) 232-5923

Phone: 1-888-441-2494 (Toll Free); (317) 232-2494 voice/TDD

A rate hike of nearly 20 percent for local electric customers?

A $10 a month increase for natural gas customers now paying about $50 a month?

You have every right to be concerned, and every right to speak up. Unlike cable and communication companies, utility providers must make a case for a rate increase before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, with opportunity for customers to air their concerns. In the case of Indiana Michigan Power's request, an opportunity to speak comes Tuesday evening at a field hearing in Fort Wayne.

At a South Bend hearing on the I&M proposal a week ago, customers raised objections not only to the amount of the rate hike requested, 19.7 percent, but also the utility company's continued reliance on fossil fuels as a primary source for generating power. 

I&M's energy sources also include nuclear, hydro, wind and solar power. Revenue from the proposed rate increase is to support capital improvements, operating and maintenance costs. 

The utility company in July announced its intention to seek the rate hike. If approved, it would occur in two phases, taking effect next July 1, and Jan. 1, 2019.

I&M has estimated its request would raise a monthly residential electric bill for 1,000 kilowatt hours from $125.88 to $151.16, if fully implemented.

The proposal includes increasing the fixed, monthly residential customer charge from $7.30 to $18. The monthly service charge for most small-business customers would rise from $9.70 to $19. The “energy charge,” or the part of the base rate that varies by usage, would also rise.

NIPSCO's rate-hike proposal, filed last month, seeks an increase in customers' base rate for delivery, also in two phases. The first increase would come in mid-2018 and the second in early 2019.  

A typical residential customer using 69 therms per month would see an overall increase of about $10 per month.

No hearing dates have been set for the NIPSCO request, but residential customers won't be alone in challenging either utility company's proposal. The I&M Industrial Group, a collection of industrial customers that includes General Motors' truck assembly plant in Fort Wayne, has filed a petition to intervene in the electric rate case, along with other commercial customers and the Citizens Action Coalition.

One more reason to rest easy for now: Utility companies seldom get what they ask for. Some rate-hike requests are cut by half when finally approved by the IURC. That's small consolation for customers on a fixed income, but still worth speaking out about.