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East Ohio to Expand Customer Choice Systemwide

East Ohio to Expand Customer Choice Systemwide

After a two-year delay because of computer snafus related to billing, East Ohio Gas finally is preparing to join the state's two other major gas distribution companies in offering customer choice across its entire system. It also has agreed to stop selling natural gas entirely by 2004.

The Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) said it has reached an agreement with Dominion Resources subsidiary East Ohio and the staff of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to expand the utility's Energy Choice program this fall. East Ohio's program currently covers 10 counties with only 30,000 customers participating. "This proposal is the next step in bringing natural gas choice to all residential customers of East Ohio Gas," said Robert S. Tongren, Ohio Consumers' Counsel.

Ohio already has one nationally recognized natural gas choice program, Columbia Gas of Ohio's, according to Tongren. "We hope East Ohio's program will be just as successful," he said. Columbia currently has 552,000 customers participating in its customer choice program out of a total of 1.2 million. A great deal of the program's success can be attributed to removal of mandatory assignment of Columbia's upstream transportation capacity. On Columbia's system, marketers can use their own gas transportation capacity to serve their load in Ohio. On the systems of Cincinnati Gas & Electric and East Ohio, marketers must pay maximum rates and use the utility's contracted upstream transportation to serve customers in the state.

The East Ohio filing recommends establishing a collaborative group consisting of representatives from the utility, the PUCO, the OCC and natural gas marketers to oversee implementation of the expanded gas choice program and to discuss various issues, including voluntary capacity assignment, allocation of on-system storage, customer education and enrollment and other administrative aspects of the expanded program. The expansion is expected to gain final approval within the next few months with expected implementation beginning systemwide Nov. 1.

East Ohio has agreed to a goal of exiting the merchant function entirely by 2004. It also intends to come up with a bidding process through which a new supplier of last resort can be chosen. The parameters for such a process still have to be determined.

"I trust the PUCO will want to review and approve the expansion of choice for consumers as quickly as possible," said Tongren. "At the same time, we have a lot of educational work to do. Our number one priority is to provide consumers with the information they need to be meaningful participants in the competitive market that will be available to them in October."

Rocco Canonica

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