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."
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