Nicor trims record-setting rate hike request

By Steve Daniels, Crain’s Chicago Business. May 1, 2019

Nicor Gas has agreed to cut $50 million from its record-setting rate request.

A settlement with staff of the Illinois Commerce Commission, filed with the ICC on April 16, takes the proposed rate increase to $180 million from $230 million when it was filed in November.

The Citizens Utility Board labeled the original proposal the largest it had ever seen by a natural gas utility in its 35 years of its existence as a consumer advocate.

If approved, the amended rate hike still would cost the average household in Nicor’s suburban territory more than $4 per month. The commission must rule on the request by October.

Nicor parent Southern, based in Atlanta, disclosed the settlement with staff in a Securities & Exchange Commission filing today. The request for higher rates closely follows a $93.5 million increase Nicor won from the ICC early last year.

Like Chicago’s Peoples Gas, Nicor is investing heavily in modernizing its infrastructure. Unlike Peoples, which has come under fire for the cost of its program and the cost burden it’s imposing on low-income city residents, Nicor is boosting its rates primarily through the ordinary and exhaustive 11-month rate-approval process utilities have used for decades to have their costs covered and make a set profit.

Peoples hasn’t filed for a rate hike in years and has leaned heavily instead on a monthly surcharge it’s allowed to impose under a 2013 state law without regulatory scrutiny beforehand. That charge for the average household is expected to be about $10 per month this year.

Though ICC staff is on board, the Citizens Utility Board still believes Nicor’s rate proposal is too high. In ICC testimony filed nearly a month ago, CUB called on Nicor to trim at least $82.5 million from its original proposal.

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