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With Aliso Canyon Still Closed, California Regulators Ponder Winter Conservation Programs

As a way to curb peak winter day natural gas use, the five-member California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Thursday approved consumer programs for Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas).

The programs are part of the California's continuing efforts to ensure gas reliability in the southern half of the state, which was impacted by the four-month leak in a storage well at SoCalGas' Aliso Canyon facility, the state's largest underground gas storage field. Earlier this month, SoCalGas asked regulators for approval to reopen the facility, which has been closed since the leak was discovered a year ago.

In what the CPUC called a first nationally, the state regulators have directed the Sempra Energy gas-only utility to propose demand response programs that are to be in place by Dec. 1, the traditional start of the winter heating season.

Three such programs were specified:

  • A natural gas conservation notification campaign to stimulate voluntary residential customer gas use reductions when SoCalGas' system reliability is predicted to be stressed;
  • Non-core, non-electric generation, gas conservation notifications to encourage voluntary gas use reductions by large commercial customers through the utility's electronic bulletin board on days when the SoCalGas system reliability is anticipated to be stressed; and
  • A gas conservation pilot rebate program to evaluate the cost-effectiveness and saving impacts of providing incentives for gas use reductions in response to gas conservation notifications.

Residential communications also will promote the use of SoCalGas advanced meter-enable tools that help customers better manage and control their gas use, including SoCalGas weekly bill tracker alerts. Similarly, noncore customers notifications will be supplemented by communications through the utility's network of account executives.

Participants in the proposed pilot rebate program will receive event e-mail notifications and will be eligible for rebates.

CPUC Commissioner Liane Randolph said the programs directly reflect the state regulators' "continued attention to managing the natural gas system while Aliso Canyon is offline and undergoing a continuing safety evaluation."

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