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The Journal Gazette


Monday, January 08, 2018 1:00 am


Taxing question

Federal rates' overhaul may lessen utilities' requests for increases

Have an opinion?

Comments on this topic should be directed to the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor.


Mail: Consumer Services Staff

Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor

115 W. Washington St., Suite 1500 South

Indianapolis, IN 46204


Fax: (317) 232-5923

Written comments should include the ratepayer's name, mailing address and a reference to “Cause No. 45032.”

Chins up, average Hoosiers. Just because you're not part of the “1 percent” doesn't mean you won't clean up from the federal tax cut that went into effect last week. 

Even if the massive reductions in corporate taxes don't “trickle down” naturally to the rest of us, there's the possibility your utility rates could be positively affected.

As those who use natural gas or electricity are probably aware, NIPSCO and I&M have both asked the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for permission to impose big rate increases on customers this year. I&M wants a 20 percent electric rate hike;NIPSCO wants a two-step increase that would raise an average residential bill by $10.35 a month by 2019.

As always, there is reason to hope those proposed increases will at least be reduced by the regulatory commission during the extended proceedings before any decision. In November, the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, which is tasked with looking out for the lower 99 percent of us as rate hikes are considered by the commission, recommended cutting I&M's request by more than half. It hasn't yet weighed in on NIPSCO's request.

But as NIPSCO's and I&M's cases inch toward resolution, the IURC on Wednesday announced the beginning of another inquiry – a look at whether and how federal tax cuts for Indiana utilities should be reflected in reductions for ratepayers.

“The Commission recognizes that the approved tax reform will create benefits for utility customers because of the reduced federal tax burden on Respondents (investor-owned utilities),” the order states. In a statement the same day, Bill Fine, the consumer counselor, welcomed the commission's order and said his office “looks forward to fully participating in this case on behalf of ratepayers throughout Indiana.”

Anthony Swinger, spokesperson for the consumer counselor's office, confirmed that an alert Journal Gazette reader was among those urging the office to look into how tax savings might affect rates. Before last week's announcement, Swinger wrote in an email, his office had also been discussing the issue with other members of the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, though he emphasized the regulatory commission decided on its own to launch the investigation.

The inquiry will begin with an IURC pre-hearing Feb. 6, Swinger wrote. “It's simply too early to speculate on how rates will be affected, since a wide range of issues will need to be addressed.”   

What was then known as the Public Service Commission initiated a similar investigation in 1986, after the last federal tax cut was passed, Stephanie Hodgin, spokesperson for what is now known as the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, wrote in an email Friday. “Following the investigation, utilities filed for rate reductions with the Commission.”

So, even if you're not part of the 1-percent club, Happy New Year, Hoosier utility customer.