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MERRILLVILLE, Ind. (AP) — The natural gas utility company for most of northern Indiana could increase its rates by about 15 percent under a deal it has reached with the state consumer advocate’s office.

The proposed increase for Merrillville-based Northern Indiana Public Service Co. would be smaller than the 23 percent hike the utility first requested last year. NIPSCO would see a projected $95 million boost in annual revenue.

If approved by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, customers would see a two-year phase-in of the higher rates start in late 2018. NIPSCO says its base gas rates haven’t gone up in more than 25 years and needs the increase to pay for pipeline safety improvements for its some 820,000 gas customers.

Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor Bill Fine calls the increase “fair and equitable.”