The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) has authorized the three largest natural gas utilities in the state, NIPSCO, Citizens Gas and Vectren, to reinstate their low-income bill assistance programs that have been operating since the winter of 2004-05. The programs began as pilots and have been renewed several times since, but had expired in May.
The amount of bill assistance varies by company, but low-income customers typically have seen reductions of up to 32 percent in their gas bills from December to May. Funding totals about $10 million annually.
NIPSCO's program, called Winter Warmth, is paid for through a surcharge on customers' bills and a contribution from NIPSCO. Low-income customers of Vectren and Citizens Gas receive help through what’s called the gas Universal Service Program (USP). After applying for LIHEAP they are automatically enrolled in the USP and receive monthly bill reductions ranging from 9 to 39 percent. The two utilities use company funds and bill surcharges to fund the programs.
The IURC also ordered the three utilities to contribute at least 25 percent of their program costs, an increase from the 18 to 23 percent contributed in past years.
The programs will operate until October 31, 2012, by which time the utilities must include their programs in their base rate cases in order for the IURC to further examine the costs and benefits of the programs and to determine if they should be continued.
For background on how the programs were created and how they operate, see the Indiana report in: Ratepayer-Funded Low-Income Energy Programs: Performance and Possibilities, APPRISE and Fisher, Sheehan, and Colton, July 2007.