The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) said it is moving forward with the second phase of its investigation into the competitiveness of the state's retail natural gas market.

On Thursday, the commission voted 5-0 to issue a tentative order for public comment. The tentative order states that an investigation into the market is necessary, and it also outlines several issues for the commission’s Office of Competitive Market Oversight (OCMO) to examine during the course of the investigation.

The PUC launched its probe last September when it asked retail customers eight questions about market competitiveness (see Daily GPI, Sept. 13, 2013). The questions included whether customers felt natural gas rates set by distribution companies were properly structured; if the market's current design inhibits customer choice; and if distribution companies should continue in the role of supplier of last resort.

Retail customers were also asked if they believe distribution companies and suppliers should be encouraged to partner with exploration and production companies currently targeting the Marcellus Shale.

"This is an opportunity to assess whether effective competition exists in Pennsylvania's retail natural gas market and also to make recommendations for improvements," PUC Commissioner Pamela Witmer said. "Our end goal is to ensure that the commonwealth is home to a properly functioning retail natural gas market and that we are making full use of our Marcellus Shale resources."

The PUC requested that public comments identify any additional issues not currently outlined in the tentative order, which will be posted in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. The issues currently identified include the assignment of capacity and use of storage assets; non-discrimination in access points on natural gas distribution (NGDC) systems; system balance, tolerances and penalties; creditworthiness requirements; seamless moves and instant connects for consumers; accelerated switching time frames for consumers, and low-income customer shopping.

Other issues identified included enhancements to the website; expanded consumer education about shopping; the purchase of receivables programs; disclosure requirements; joint NGDC-natural gas supplier bills; account number access mechanisms; migration riders, and electronic data protocols.

In an October 2005 report, the PUC concluded that the retail natural gas market in Pennsylvania was not competitive (see Daily GPI, Oct. 7, 2005). The commission was then required by law to convene a natural gas stakeholders working group, which began meeting regularly from 2006 to the present. The commission proposed regulatory changes in 2009 and 2011 (see Daily GPI, Oct. 17, 2011; March 27, 2009).