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NIPSCO: Indiana Customers' Winter Bills Up to 60% Higher

NIPSCO: Indiana Customers' Winter Bills Up to 60% Higher

Unlike San Diego consumers for whom skyrocketing utility bills came as a hugely unpleasant surprise, natural gas customers in Indiana have been warned in advance to expect to expect much higher bills this winter. The message to Indiana consumers last week was similar to those being broadcast all across the country by government and utility officials anxious to moderate the intense public reaction manifest in California.

This winter the heat will be on natural gas, and the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission turned out the troops for a natural gas forum to warn and explain that natural gas bills during the peak winter months could be 50% to 60% higher than last year.

Indiana utilities, including representatives of Northern Indiana Public Service Co. (NIPSCO), a subsidiary of NiSource Inc., and the American Gas Association, said they were working now to get the word out and help consumers and businesses prepare for what their winter heating bills may look like.

"While early winter weather and other factors can still affect the actual gas prices we see this winter, we are informing customers to plan on increases of 50% to 60% in their natural gas bills in December 2000, and January and February 2001 when compared to the same months last heating season," said Jeffrey Yundt, NiSource Inc.'s executive vice president. "This comparison assumes normal winter temperatures this heating season versus last season's milder than normal winter."

Yundt said that a combination of decreased production during 1997 and 1998, and an increased demand by business and industry because of the strong economy has "created an imbalance" in the market. "While new production in response to higher gas prices has taken place, it can take six to 18 months for these new supplies to reach the market and have an impact on prices."

Even if prices are higher, NIPSCO, the largest natural gas distributor in Indiana and second largest electric distribution company, does not expect to have supply problems. It now has about 700,000 natural gas customers and 416,000 electricity customers. With access to eight interstate pipelines and up to 100 suppliers, it also has a new contract with the Vector pipeline, which will deliver Canadian gas later this year. It also has "significant storage facilities," said Yundt and a "distribution system to meet the demands of our customers."

Carolyn Davis, Houston

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