Like an irate mother ordering her child to come inside while theother children play, the Georgia Public Service Commissionunanimously voted Tuesday to order a full hearing into Atlanta GasLight’s (AGL) rate charging operations. The hearings will beginFeb.3 and a decision is expected by Feb. 9. The vote took placeduring a regular session of the commission.

“In the most extreme scenario, the PSC will have to go back inand re-regulate these controversial rates,” said Shawn Davis, a PSCspokesman. “We will not discourage competition, but we may have toregulate what AGL charges customers who don’t switch.

Davis said that the first step will be to gain access to AGL’scharging information. “We’ve got to go in there and force them toopen the books.” The PSC also plans to call witnesses during thehearing to demonstrate how AGL has over-charged since the utilityunbundled in November.

The controversy stems from a fixed demand charge AGL installedwhen the state deregulated. This charge, which is part of theconsumption charge on monthly bills, has increased the averageconsumer’s December bill 20-30% compared to the same period lastyear. Angry customers flooded the utility’s customer service lineswith calls. AGL said that charges are necessary in order to recovercosts expended for reservation fees that ensure the delivery ofnatural gas supplies to Georgia from interstate pipelinetransmission companies.

Yet, explanations have done little to calm the storm. “I triedto get through to AGL’s customer service,” said one source whowished not to be named. “It was absolutely crazy. It took meseveral times just to get put on hold.” He added that GeorgiaNatural Gas Service, the AGL affiliate that is one of the suppliersseeking customers in Georgia’s newly deregulated market, may alsofeel the pain of this situation. “Nobody wants anything to do withAGL, so their affiliate could be in some trouble,” he said.

Since customers were allowed to choose suppliers, 128,000 peoplehave switched. The PSC approved 19 suppliers that can seek as muchof the 1.4 million person Georgia market as they can handle.

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