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PSC Investigates Georgia Natural Gas Customer Back-Billing

PSC Investigates Georgia Natural Gas Customer Back-Billing

Georgia's leading natural gas marketer, Georgia Natural Gas Co., has been back-billing "several thousand" customers for charges that date back as far as a year, according to officials with the Georgia Public Service Commission. That news comes as the PSC deferred consideration until Nov. 20 of proposed new rules which would require marketers to provide efficient billing to customers.

The PSC said it had obtained an Oct. 30 confidential company memo written on SouthStar Energy Services/Georgia Natural Gas letterhead, which reportedly said, "approximately 41,000 accounts need resolution to finalize the audit and billing improvement plans." The memo continued, "these are accounts that for some reason did not bill 100% of the applicable base charges."

The memo also provided a script for customer service personnel to use for complaining customers, which reads: "Georgia Natural Gas has conducted a thorough audit to ensure that each customer has been billed correctly. In addition, we will never bill a customer for more than 12 base charges in one calendar year."

SouthStar Energy, which does business as Georgia Natural Gas in Georgia, is an alliance of AGL Resources Inc., Dynegy Inc. and Piedmont Natural Gas Co. Georgia Natural Gas serves more than 500,000 customers, and the back-billing accounts are being done on accounts missing up to eight monthly base charges, including monthly charges from Atlanta Gas Light for distributing gas and other services.

According to Georgia Natural Gas, customers billed for eight months-base charges would have up to four months to pay. PSC Commissioner Bobby Baker said that Georgia Natural Gas did not bill customers for meters not read in a certain month. Instead, when the meters were read and the multiple charges were sent, the bills did not include base charges.

The PSC is set to discuss a proposed rule authored by Baker on Nov. 20, which would forgive bills more than 90 days late and put the burden on marketers to provide efficient billing. Marketers in the state are opposed to the proposal. PSC also may rule on the two latest applications to enter the Georgia market as early as Nov. 21. The New Power Company and PowerTrust.com both have requested entrance to Georgia's two-year-old deregulated market, and would both use the Internet to market electricity and natural gas.

Georgia now has 12 certified marketers, down from 21 at the start of deregulation two years ago. Three suppliers have declared bankruptcy (see NGI, Sept. 4). Three marketers, including Georgia Natural Gas, Scana Energy and Shell Energy, control 85% of Georgia's deregulated market, now numbering about 1.5 million homes and businesses.

Carolyn Davis, Houston

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