MERRILLVILLE - Merrillville-based Northern Indiana Public Service Co. is looking to raise its natural gas rates for the first time in more than 25 years. The utility has filed a request with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for the increase, which it says will help improve service.

NIPSCO says, if approved, the increase would generate more than $140 million annually. The increase would occur in two phases with the first taking place in mid-2018 and the second in early 2019.

The utility says the increase would benefit customers in a number of ways, including providing faster response times to emergency calls, upgrading and replacing old underground pipes and replacing customer meters with more advanced meters. It would also help the utility comply with state and federal safety standards.

"In addition to providing affordable natural gas service, customers expect their energy provider to be responsive to their needs, easy to do business with and safe," said Violet Sistovaris, president of NIPSCO and executive vice president of parent NiSource Inc. (NYSE: NI). "This proposal seeks to strike the right balance of cost and service in order to continue delivering on our commitments to customers."

The average monthly residential gas bill would increase about $10 per month under the increase, according to NIPSCO. The utility says it would still remain among the lowest-cost providers if the increase is approved.

Customers will have the ability to provide input on the rate increase proposal by submitting written comments to the IURC and other organizations, including the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor. 

Last year, the IURC approved a rate increase for NIPSCO's electric customers.