After 30% of its gas customers saved $7 million (11%) on theirgas bills through a customer choice pilot in Toledo, OH, last year,Columbia Gas of Ohio decided the results were too good to withholdfrom the rest of its customer base. The Ohio utility filed anapplication with the Ohio Public Utility Commission late Tuesday toallow the rest of its 1.3 million customers to choose alternativesuppliers.

“By any standard of measure the first year of the program hasexceeded all expectations,” said CEO Robert C. Scaggs, Jr. “If youlook at enrollment, the number of competing suppliers, customersavings, customer awareness and satisfaction or any other standard,this is the blue chip program in the nation.” About 55,000residential and commercial customers currently are being served by15 suppliers. A total of 24 suppliers have been approved to servecustomers. And Columbia said a survey showed 80% of its customerswere aware of the program.

Gary Babin, vice president of regulatory affairs for theutility, attributes the success of the pilot to Columbia’seagerness to make life easy on alternative suppliers. For example,since January, the utility has held more than 20 workgroups withmarketers to discuss how the program can be improved. At a pressconference in Columbus yesterday, Enron lauded the program as thebest in the nation. The Ohio Consumers Council also praised it andthe announcement that more customers were being given a choice.

Included in the application is some fine-tuning to the program,such as a proposal to allow customers to sign up via telephonerather than written contract. Columbia also has requested there beyear-round daily enrollment.

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