GA Gas Marketer Playing Follow That Electron
If SCANA Energy's Georgia marketing strategy works, gas
molecules will follow the trail blazed by electrons into the homes
and businesses of customers soon to be granted supplier choice.
SCANA Energy, a division of SCANA Energy Marketing, formed a
marketing alliance with two electric utility co-ops serving parts
of metropolitan Atlanta to market gas to residential and commercial
Cobb Energy Management, an affiliate of the Cobb Electric
Membership Corp., and Snapping Shoals Energy Management, an
affiliate of Snapping Shoals Electric Membership Corp., signed a
gas retail service alliance agreement with SCANA Energy. The
agreement will enable SCANA to market its gas services directly to
about 200,000 Electric Membership Corp. (EMC) customers in areas
served by Cobb and Snapping Shoals EMCs. This includes portions of
Cobb, Cherokee, Paulding, Bartow, Fulton, Rockdale, Henry, Newton
and southeast DeKalb counties.
SCANA's effort capitalizes on the one-stop shopping philosophy
similar to that advocated by suppliers who offer gas service along
with, for instance, telecommunications or home services. "This is
different [though] as we are going in as a partner with the co-ops
to their customers. So the co-op customer has the opportunity to
purchase natural gas from someone they are currently purchasing
electricity from. It's a much better opportunity for us because
we're going with one of their current providers of energy," said
SCANA spokesman Roger Schrum.
To bolster the marketing effort, SCANA could add other services
to its offering to customers. "We are very much considering that,"
Schrum said. SCANA is an investor in telecommunications, home
security and appliance protection, as well as Internet businesses,
"We'll be doing a number of differing marketing initiatives
throughout the state. We may have a number of differing offerings
that we will be providing. We do plan to provide services
throughout Atlanta Gas Light's service territory throughout the
state, which is about 1.5 million customers."
Efforts could include alliances with other electric co-ops, of
which the state has about 20. Schrum said he was unaware of any
Georgia co-ops with poor customer relationships that would preclude
SCANA's hitching its star to them. He said electric deregulation
isn't on SCANA's radar screen and not a threat to its co-op
alliances as no electric deregulation legislation is currently
being pursued in Georgia.
About 90% of the EMC customers currently have gas service, he
said. The remaining 10% would get service only if Atlanta Gas Light
chooses to expand its distribution system. In the coming months,
Georgia consumers will be able to select their gas supplier.
Legislation passed in 1997 by the Georgia General Assembly allows
for the deregulation of the state's gas industry over the next few
"When the market opens in the fall, we will be ready to add
natural gas to the growing list of products and services that we
make available to our customers," said Randall Meadows, CEO of
Rockdale's Snapping Shoals EMC. "In the meantime, we intend to make
sure our customers are sufficiently informed to take advantage of
the new consumer opportunities that deregulation will present."
SCANA isn't the only company pursuing a strategy involving
electric utilities. Georgia marketer Optimum Energy Sources expects
to be making an announcement similar to SCANA's in about two weeks,
said Optimum President Deborah Latham. "At this point all that I am
prepared to say is that it is definitely true that we are working
with a lot of utilities, and call me in two weeks." She said she
knows of others who have tried and failed in hooking up with
electric utilities to market gas. "Probably [because of] a little
bit of ego, a little bit of inflexibility, an inability to
understand exactly what it is the customer wants and catering to
that. That would be my take on it, and we've come up against the
best in some of these deals in Georgia so far. As far as I know
almost everybody and their brother has pursued the electric
utilities in Georgia."
The Georgia Public Service Commission is expected to issue an
order later this month that will further outline the move to a
competitive marketplace. The commission must approve all of the
marketers who offer to provide residential and commercial services
in Georgia. Certified marketers will be able to begin soliciting
customers in October or November.
Joe Fisher, Houston