By REBECCA THIELE & ANNACAROLINE CARUSO
Northern Indiana utility customers protested Thursday night to oppose NIPSCO’s plans to raise their rates while allowing industrial customers to access lower market prices. The company says the proposed 7% rate will be used to transition away from coal and toward cleaner sources.
About 30 people, including residents and Michigan City officials, gathered in Michigan City’s Pullman Park Thursday night holding signs and singing.
“You’re going down, I'm yelling rate hike, you better move, that rate hike down,” protesters sang.
The NAACP and the Sierra Club hosted the protest. La’Tonya Troutman, with the LaPorte County NAACP, attended the protest. She says if NIPSCO follows through with their plan, low-income customers will have to pull money from other areas of their budget to be able to pay their bill.
“A lot of us, especially for me, the NIPSCO is almost equivalent to rent or mortgage and so sometimes it becomes a choice,” Troutman says. “Do I pay my NIPSCO bill or do I get food for my kids?”
The protesters say the proposal is unfair because they will have to pick up the cost from wealthy corporations. NIPSCO says they need the industrial customers to continue to buy from them or all rates will go up more.
Northern Indiana utility customers protested Thursday night opposing NIPSCO’s plans to raise their rates while allowing industrial customers to access lower market prices. The utility says the increase will help it transition away from coal and toward renewable energy and natural gas.
Jacarra Williams is the senior pastor at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Michigan City, which helps some residents pay their electric bills. He says he’s glad NIPSCO is going to more wind and solar, but some members of the community are struggling to make ends meet.
“We know that in all of our lives change is necessary, but I think there has to be a strategic way to make that change benefit everyone,” Williams says.
Erik Tannehill is the soup kitchen ministry coordinator for St. Paul Lutheran Church in Michigan City, which serves more than 100 people a week.
“People just trying to get back on their feet that are getting their wallets drained and can’t pay rent or have to choose between a meal or medicines to keep their power on,” he says.
Tannehill himself has a disability and says he has struggled to pay his utility bills in the past.
NIPSCO communications director Nick Meyer says industrial companies like U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal make up about 40 percent of the utility’s sales.
“They have the desire and the ability to generate their own electricity and leave the system, which would mean that would create a considerable cost burden for all other customers,” he says.
Meyer says the plan was designed to encourage these industrial customers to continue purchasing at least some of their energy from NIPSCO. Though they may choose to buy less energy from the utility, he says the rate they would pay wouldn’t go down.
This story has been updated.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.