Piedmont Gas, Duke Power to Partner Services

A joint venture by Southeastern based utilities Piedmont Natural Gas and Duke Power will use their overlapping service territories to find "opportunities to gain mutual efficiencies," including consolidating and upgrading their meter reading programs and jointly negotiating for contractor services to enhance customer service.

The plan, announced yesterday, entails an ongoing working agreement to mutually benefit the companies and their customers in the Carolinas where the gas and electric utilities share customers. They first plan a feasibility study on the potential for consolidating meter reading to determine if a joint program, using a single reader for both gas and electric meters, could lower each company's costs. Customer addresses within overlapping service territories in the Carolinas have a potential base of more than 500,000 customers alone.

"If we find areas where synergies could be achieved, we would hope to begin a joint meter reading pilot project in the third quarter of 2001," said Duke Power Senior Vice President E.O. Ferrell.

The two will also are considering automating their meters, including the installation of remote meter reading where they would share facilities and costs.

Other projects also on the drawing board have the potential to contain costs and enhance customer service, they said, including sharing trenches during installation of distribution facilities. They also are considering a partnership to negotiate with location services contractors for all underground pipes and wires.

Piedmont transports, distributes and sells natural gas to more than 690,000 customers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, and is the second-largest natural gas utility in the Southeast. Duke Power serves more than two million customers in North Carolina and South Carolina.

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