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Natural gas rate hikes on horizon?

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Two natural gas companies serving Bartholomew County say customers here could see bills going up soon.

Vectren is in the process of a $650 million infrastructure improvement project that will upgrade portions of its 13,000-mile network of distribution mains and transmission pipeline.

The project calls for replacing 800 miles of bare steel and cast iron distribution mains. The seven-year project will cause an average increase of about $1 per month on users’ gas bills starting in 2015.

The improvements were initiated by new federal requirements, said Chase Kelley, Vectren director of corporate communications.

Kelley said the rate increase would account for a less than 1 percent increase to users’ monthly bill.

“There were pipeline explosions in California and in Pennsylvania, and the government passed new laws and new safety standards,” she said.

The bill increase of $1 will last through 2020, Kelley said.

Vectren will spend more than $1.5 million in Columbus replacing nearly 2.5 miles of gas main and 260 services lines in the area.

Kelley said that Vectren serves about 22,900 customers in cities and towns throughout Bartholomew County.

The last time Vectren increased its rates was in 2008, she said.

The improvement project will affect 19th Street, 20th Street, 23rd Street, Franklin Street, Highland Drive, Linden Street, Riverside Drive and Washington Street.

Gas mains will be replaced within the right-of-way. Services lines running to homes and businesses also will be replaced.

Columbus is one of nearly 75 cities with Vectren service in Indiana that will see pipeline replacements.

The county’s other natural gas provider, Indiana Natural Gas Corp., wants to increase monthly rates by about 6 percent, General Manager Phil Ross said.

The company serves about 7,600 customers, 2,000 of which are in Bartholomew County.

Indiana Natural Gas serves customers in Brown County in the town of Nashville and customers on the west side of Columbus along Interstate 65, Ross said.

He said that most of the Columbus area is served by Vectren.

Ross said the increase is to keep up with the rising cost the company pays for employee wages, employee health care costs, tax increases, running the company’s fleet and natural gas prices.

He said if a customer has a monthly bill of $100, they could expect to see a $6 monthly increase. A timetable for the increase is unknown because the company has not received approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

The energy provider’s last rate increase took place in November 2008, he said.

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