GARY — Big things are happening at NIPSCO, as the utility intends to keep on track with its opportunities and economic growth while making sure customers are better served.
Celebrating its 100 years serving Northern Indiana this year, the company expects to spend $5 billion over the next decade, with a good majority — 60 percent — of it on generation and infrastructure improvements, Executive Vice President and Group CEO for Natural Gas Transmission and Storage Jimmy Staton told the Gary Chamber of Commerce at its monthly luncheon. Staton is also responsible for NiSource’s Indiana gas and electric utilities.
The utility company foresees a new, 500-megawatt natural gas plant built somewhere near the R.M. Shahfer Generating Station or anywhere there’s available land, the cost of which could run in the $500 million to $750 million range.
“As the transmission grid continues to evolve, we don’t want to back up power. It would be like a backup on the highway,” Staton said. “We’ll find a place for it.”
Staton touted that NIPSCO’s rates aren’t the highest in the state, with Indiana’s rates being some of the lowest in the nation overall. Its natural gas rates are lower as well.
A $600 million project at the Shahfer Station in Wheatfield has resulted in at least 1,000 jobs, and the company itself hires 200 new people per year, primarily from Northwest Indiana. Perhaps the icing on the cake, however, is that through NIPSCO’s efforts, Lake County has once again become a so-called attainment zone, which means the air quality is clean enough that the county can pursue manufacturing companies.
That, of course, would bring more jobs to the area.
“Working with the (Indiana Economic Development Corp.), we feel we’ve gotten a fair amount of great opportunities,” Staton said, highlighting the Kirk Yard deal in Gary as one of them.
State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, asked Staton whether he felt the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission treats the utility fairly, to which he said he’s pleased to see a strong chairperson and diverse board where members can disagree with one another. He called the commission’s actions as “fair a level of regulation as the company’s seen.”
Staton also said the company is trying to branch out into social media and new technologies such as a mobile app that will allow customers to pay their bills from their phones. And, new programs to help people use energy more efficiently or even create their own energy and sell it back to NIPSCO are important, even if it means less money for NIPSCO.
“We have an obligation to make sure people’s bills are managed,” Staton said.