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National Fuel to Offer All Its PA Customers Choice

National Fuel to Offer All Its PA Customers Choice

National Fuel has filed an application with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to begin a system-wide customer choice program starting in April. The program would be a major expansion of the company's current Energy Select pilot in Mercer County, in which 19,700 retail gas customers were allowed -- actually forced -- to choose alternative suppliers beginning in June 1997. The expanded program would offer a choice of suppliers to 210,000 customers in National Fuel's 14 county service territory. It also would include some significant differences from the Energy Select pilot.

One major change is National Fuel's decision to be a gas supply option for customers. In the pilot program, Southern Co. operated as supplier of last resort, taking any customers that did not choose among the three marketers participating: Texaco Natural Gas, Atlas Gas Marketing and National Fuel Resources, the utility's marketing affiliate. However, last spring Southern opted to transfer 1,700 of those customers back to the utility because of payment problems. In effect there were two suppliers of last resort. In addition, several town meetings revealed a strong customer interest in remaining with the utility, a spokeswoman said.

The company intends to maintain mandatory upstream transportation capacity assignment, which should get some marketers' danders up. But Nat ional Fuel sees no other way of dealing with the stranded cost issue. When pipeline contracts come up for renewal it will shed them according to estimated future need and the ability of marketers to ensure reliable service, according to the spokeswoman.

"Our most important concern is reliability of gas supply to our residential customers," said spokeswoman Donna L. DeCarolis. "The plan as proposed maintains essential pipeline capacity to ensure that our customers have sufficient gas supply in even the most severe weather conditions."

Rocco Canonica

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