Sierra Club — Rally targets NIPSCO’s plans to shift cost burden from industry to homeowners

Joseph S. Pete, The Times of Northwest Indiana, July 31, 2019
NIPSCO customers and the Sierra Club will rally Thursday against cuts for industrial users while commercial and residential customers see rate hikes.

NIPSCO customers, the Sierra Club and NAACP plan to rally Thursday night in Michigan City against 19% cuts to industrial electricity bills at a time when NIPSCO is raising electricity bills for everyone else.

“Northern Indiana Public Service Company customers will come together to urge industrial customers to pay their fair share,” the Sierra Club said in a news release. “NIPSCO is proposing to shift costs from their industrial customers — B.P., U.S. Steel, ArcelorMittal, Praxair and NLMK, who are also some of the wealthiest corporations in the world — onto residential and commercial customers.”

Gary Councilwoman Rebecca Wyatt; Michigan City Democratic council candidate Michael Mack; New Hope Missionary Baptist Church’s Rev. Jacarra Williams; the Rev. Damen Carnes of Freedom in the Word Ministries; and other community leaders will speak at the NWI NAACP & Beyond Coal Collaboration Rally, BBQ and Potluck at 6 p.m. Thursday at Pullman Park at 550 W. Fourth St. in Michigan City.

Industrial customers, such as the massive steel mills and oil refineries that line the Lake Michigan lakeshore, account for more than half of NIPSCO’s electricity demand. The utility said in written testimony lobbying the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for the rate increase that it was making a strategic shift in its service structure to retain large industrial companies as it transitioned away from coal to natural gas and renewable sources for energy production.

NIPSCO President Violet Sistovaris wrote in her testimony the utility needed to consider long-term sustainability at a time when the steel industry faces headwinds and many large energy users have installed their own solar panels, wind turbines or other alternative sources of electricity generation.

Spokesman Nick Meyer said an option “has been proposed to protect homes and businesses from experiencing even larger increases.”

“These large industrial customers have the desire and the ability to generate their own electricity and leave the system, which would create a considerable cost burden on all other customers,” he said. “The option that was proposed was designed to encourage these large industrials to continue purchasing at least a portion of their energy from the electricity generated by NIPSCO. So, while they might be purchasing less from NIPSCO directly in the future, the rate they would pay is not going down. NIPSCO recognizes that any cost increase to customers is meaningful, and there are options to help those customers in need, whether it be through qualifying bill payment assistance programs, energy efficiency programs and other billing options. Customers are encouraged to reach out to us if they’re having difficulty with their bill.”

NIPSCO has proposed raising bills by 12% to generate $21.4 million in additional revenue. The average residential customer would pay $132 more per year, or about $11 a month. Large industrial customers, however, would see their electricity bills shrink by nearly a fifth under the proposal.

“Customers are calling on decision-makers at B.P., U.S. Steel, ArcelorMittal, Praxair and NLMK to pay their fair share and asking that NIPSCO withdraws their proposal to reduce industrial customers’ electric rates by 19%, while imposing a hike on residential and commercial customers,” the Sierra Club said in a news release. “If these corporations are truly socially responsible, they must consider the impacts of the cost shift on all community members, particularly those most marginalized who already struggle to pay their NIPSCO bill.”

The rally is open to the public and includes a BBQ and potluck. The Soul Steppers Drill Team Inc. will give a live dance performance, and Red Rah will recite poetry.

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