GPSC Passes Controversial Emergency Rules
The Georgia Public Service Commission (GPSC) last week
unanimously voted out two orders, one that offers customers the
option of changing gas marketers monthly and one that prohibits gas
disconnections for residential customers until April 1. A third
order, which will allow customers to change marketers even if they
have outstanding debt with their previous marketer, squeaked by on
a three to two vote with Commissioner Stan Wiseand newly appointed
Chairman Lauren "Bubba" McDonald dissenting.
"You can game the system that way," said McDonald. "The initial
reason for it [the emergency rule] was so that a customer could not
get locked in with a high priced marketer, and not be able to go
back and choose." McDonald said he felt it was not right that as a
consumer "you could just keep gaming it right on down, even though
you may have three marketers that you have past-dues with for
whatever the reason."
Under the third order, residential gas consumers would be able
to switch marketers once a month as long as the option is processed
before the 20th of the month, which coincides with the cut-off date
established in Atlanta Gas Light Co.'s commission approved tariffs.
Even though consumers would not have to pay their old marketer
before they switched, they would still be obligated to pay the
marketer back at some point, the commission said. McDonald said
marketers voiced their reservations about its action.
Richard Schrum, spokesman for SCANA Energy Marketing, said,
"Obviously we were disappointed by the commission's ruling. Our
principle concern is two-fold, one, is we think it will result in
less competition because it could potentially put several of the
smaller marketers out of business if customers are allowed not to
pay their bills or transfer to another marketer without paying
their bills. Also, we have some concerns that our customers that
are actually paying their bills would be subsidizing those that may
be trying to avoid paying."
Schrum said that AGL will not be able to provide marketers with
any information related to individual customers, such as notices of
past due balances with other marketers. Under the current setup,
delinquent customers would be able to switch to other marketers
with virtual anonymity.
AGL told the commission that it currently has 8,414 orders to
shut off for non payment. and 45,565 accounts that are blocked from
changing marketers out of its 1.5 million customers. AGL spokesman
Nick Gold said that marketers will have some recourse. "A marketer
has the ability that when they find out what your credit history is
in terms of paying bills, they then have the right to charge
whatever they deem is appropriate as a deposit for insurance," said
As part of the ruling, residential consumers who choose to
switch more than once in a 12 month period would have to pay a
switching fee of $7.50. All three emergency rules will remain in
effect for a period of 60 days, at which point they will be
reevaluated by the GPSC.
"They really did not take our advice, but we are in a position
where we support the commission, and we will work with them however
we can to enforce these rulings," said Gold. "We will certainly
follow the letter of the law of what they passed for these
emergency rules for thenext 60 days, but it just puts a real
hardship on not only us, but on the marketers as well."
McDonald, who replaces Commissioner Bob Durden as chairman, will
serve a one-year term, with Wise serving as vice-chairman. The
chairman also announced that he has appointed Robert B. Baker Jr.
to head up the commission's energy committee.