AGL Picks Marketing Name
While AGL Resources says it's naming its new marketing affiliate Atlanta Gas Light Services to spare customers confusion, regulators and at least one competing marketer claim the move capitalizes unfairly on name recognition built by utility Atlanta Gas Light.
"Atlanta Gas Light Services is a new, entrepreneurial, market competitive company that shares its heritage with a family of companies that Georgians have known and trusted for reliable gas service for many years," said Walter M. Higgins, CEO of AGL Resources. Operations of AGL commercial and industrial marketing affiliate The Energy Spring will be brought under Atlanta Gas Light Services, and the Energy Spring name will be replaced by Atlanta Gas Light Services. "When you're involved with trying to get a million customers to do the work to sign up with you as a service provider, you've got to have a name that will reflect a little bit more about the company," AGL spokesman Ross Willis said in defense of the marketing arm's name.
At least part of the immediate name recognition Atlanta Gas Light Services will enjoy was paid for by ratepayers, said Kathleen Magruder, vice president of rates and tariffs for Enron Energy Services, which plans to compete against Atlanta Gas Light Services and others in the Georgia market. "I would assume that the reason AGL has decided to take this tack is that they know there is a market power advantage to using this name," Magruder said. She noted AGL already had established The Energy Spring in the commercial and industrial market.
Georgia Public Service Commission spokesman Shawn Davis said the PSC was only given one day's notice of AGL's intent to change Energy Spring to AGL Services. "The announcement was unexpected to say the least." Davis said during three years of negotiations leading up to Georgia deregulation, AGL said Energy Spring would be its marketer for small commercial and residential customers.
Willis said this was not so; the company did not commit to using Energy Spring in the residential, small commercial market. "I've been talking to people for months telling them that The Energy Spring was a marketer focused on large commercial and industrial customers and that they were doing a good job but that that name would probably not be used. for residential and small business customers," Willis said.
Enron enjoys "huge name recognition. I think their name will serve them very well. We wonder if they won't have a name recognition advantage," Willis said. "I don't see how you can have an unfair competitive advantage when you're doing something that's never been done, and that's exactly what we're doing." Unlike Atlanta Gas Light, Enron is not a utility with captive ratepayers who have helped pay for the advertising of its name, Georgia PSC Commissioner Stan Wise pointed out.
"I will say that I am concerned and we will have to review the issues of the name and the relationship between the name and market power in a new competitive marketplace," Wise said. "Yes, there's real concern for me. Certainly, there's precedent for Atlanta Gas to use their name, but holy cow, that's a name that's been bought and paid for by ratepayers for the last 75 to 80 years."
Joe Fisher, Houston
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