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Columbia Seeks to Extend VA Pilot Program

Columbia Seeks to Extend VA Pilot Program

Columbia Gas of Virginia filed a motion with the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) last week to extend its pilot program through Oct. 1, 2000. The two-year program is set to expire in October of this year. The SCC said no date has been set for a ruling on the filing.

Columbia Gas said it is seeking the extension because of the program's popularity and because it anticipates statewide customer choice to be initiated next year. In the two years since the program started, 7,750 or 29% of eligible participants have switched to one of nine suppliers. The program is available to a total of 26,500 customers residing in Manassas, Manassas Park and Culpeper, Fairfax, Greene, Loudon, Louisa, Madison, Orange and Prince William counties. Washington Gas also has an active pilot program in Northern Virginia as well.

"The strength of the program's acceptance in northern Virginia is the best endorsement for its expansion to Columbia Gas of Virginia's customers statewide," said David Bowman, manager of the LDC's customer choice program. "The suppliers are offering a competitive menu of pricing options and other incentives, and that's great news for [our] customers."

Mike Anderson, a Columbia spokesman, said the company is shooting for a 50% participation rate by the year's end. "We are thrilled with the 30%, especially when you factor in the fact that Virginia has had two straight mild winters. For this being a brand new concept in Virginia when we started, the numbers make us very excited."

Anderson said Columbia was a leader in last winter's successful passage of State Sen. Charles Colgan's (D-Manassas) gas deregulation bill. One of the stipulations of the bill prevents any of Virginia's LDCs from requesting the SCC expand their pilot programs statewide until the year 2000. Anderson said Columbia is biting at the lip to do so. "We are very confident to have this extension passed. Once we do that, we can continue offering choice almost until 2000. We intend to go back to the General Assembly in early 2000 and ask them to re-enact the deregulation legislation. If that occurs, then we can petition the SCC to let us expand choice to our entire customer base."

The Chesterfield County-based Columbia Gas of Virginia is a subsidiary of Columbia Energy Group. It delivers gas to 178,000 customers in portions of northern Virginia, Fredricksburg, the Shenandoah Valley, the Lynchburg region, and suburbs of Richmond as well as other parts of the state.

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