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Columbia Gas of Virginia Calls Choice Pilot a Success

Columbia Gas of Virginia Calls Choice Pilot a Success

Columbia Gas of Virginia says the first year of its two-year, customer-choice program has captured high marks, with about one-fifth of its eligible customers in the northern part of the state having signed up to participate in it so far. This is the "best endorsement for the [program's] expansion" throughout Columbia's entire service territory, a company official said.

"We're very happy with the results," particularly since this is the first time that Virginia has had an unbundling program for residential and commercial customers, said Mike Anderson, a spokesman for the LDC. "I would say the pilot's been very good so far. It's shown that our customers want a choice," said David Bowman, manager of programs and implementation.

Following an eight-month enrollment, Columbia estimates that 4,893 of its 26,500 eligible gas customers in northern Virginia have joined in the state's first-ever supplier choice program for either gas or electric. This is about 74% of Columbia's goal of 6,700 customers for the first year of the unbundling pilot, Anderson noted. "We don't anticipate having any problems meeting that goal" since the first year of the pilot doesn't end until October. "In the second year, as the word spreads throughout the neighborhood...we expect a lot more people to sign up," Bowman said.

Columbia said it expects to go before the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) and ask for the customer-choice program to be expanded to include the entire state.

Bowman believes that the five open-houses that Columbia held, where customers and suppliers met face-to-face rather than over the telephone, contributed to the success of the program in its first year. "You can get a lot better feel for a person from looking them dead in the eye and asking them questions than you can [from] over the telephone," he told NGI . "We found the open-houses to be very successful. That was just one way that we got the word out."

The LDC noted that seven "very active" marketers have been participating in Columbia's choice program, including Columbia Energy Services, Statoil Energy Services, Marco Energy Marketing, PG&ampE Energy Services, United Energy, Washington Gas Energy Services and America's Energy (a subsidiary of Northern Virgina Electric Co-op).

Average residential customers using 80,000 cubic feet of natural annually have seen savings as much as 8% by participating in the pilot program, Columbia said. And small business owners using 400,000 cubic feet annually have saved up to 12%.

Susan Parker

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