FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Indiana residents say they can’t afford Indiana Michigan Power’s proposed 20 percent rate hike increase, which would be used to improve the utility’s electric distribution system in Indiana.

Customers would see an estimated $26 monthly increase, which could go into effect by July 2018. It would be phased in over two years.

Customer Brian Flory said the small increase adds up.

“For some people that’s a month’s car payment or a substantial amount of mortgage,” he said.

The utility also plans to increase the flat rate for residential customers from $7.30 to $18 per month.

Kyle Miller, 29, of Fort Wayne, said he’s against the rate hike because the money isn’t being used to move forward technologically.

“We’re not investing in a lot of renewable energy sources,” Miller said. “What is our money being used for?”

If the increase is approved, the utility would receive more than $260 million for electric infrastructure improvements. Those include replacing poles and overhead and underground power lines, and trimming trees to decrease the chances of falling trees causing power outages. Falling tree limbs are the leading cause of power outages, utility officials said.

“As we look at what we need to continue to do to deliver our product in a safe and reliable manner this is what we believe is necessary,” said Toby Thomas, Indiana Michigan Power President and COO.

Another public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 30. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission will rule later on the rate-hike request.

The utility company has about 460,000 residential and business customers in northern and northeastern Indiana.