Working to find ways to ease the burden on its constituents, theGeorgia Public Service Commission (GPSC) unanimously approved anadditional $50 refund for low-income senior citizens on theirnatural gas bills for March. Low-income seniors are alreadyreceiving $10 refunds on their January, February and March bills,while all consumers are receiving $14 refunds on their February andMarch bills.

The latest senior refund will total approximately $1.5 million,which will come from the Universal Service Fund. Including thisrefund, the commission has given a total of $42.4 million inrefunds from this source already this year.

To be eligible for the most recent refund, the consumer must be65 years of age or older and have an annual household income of$10,000 or less.

In a companion measure, Commissioner Robert Baker, Jr. askedcommission staff to prepare a proposal that would raise thelow-income limit from the current $10,000 a year. The current markhas not been altered since 1988. Baker requested that the staffhave the motion ready by the committee’s March 1 meeting.

Commission Chairman Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, Jr. said he alsohas requested that the state attorney general’s office look intowhether gas marketers are authorized under law to charge sales taxfor non-commodity services, such as distribution services, customerservices and other charges to customers that they must pay, evenwhile not using gas.

Earlier this month in a “sternly worded letter” to the CEOs ofevery natural gas marketer operating in the state, McDonaldcriticized marketers for failing to adequately alleviate consumerconcerns regarding high gas prices, billing problems and theavailability of payment assistance programs. McDonald said due tothe marketers inaction, the commission has “literally been under astate of siege, swamped by an unprecedented number of calls,letters and emails” as consumers are “experiencing shock, disbeliefand outrage following receipt of their January gas bills.”

In his letter, the chairman told the gas marketers to inform thecommission of what exactly they are doing “to reassure Georgiaconsumers that things are going to be okay.” McDonald also accusedthe marketers of showing a “lack of foresight regarding the publicrelations aspect of this problem, the practices that havecompounded this problem and a lack of resources devoted to handlethis problem.”

McDonald demanded that the CEOs of the marketing companiesreport back to him immediately on how they intend to handle theongoing consumer concerns.

In other action earlier this month, the commission approved abrief delay in implementing portions of the Gas Marketers BillingPractices Rules sought by three natural gas marketers, GeorgiaNatural Gas Service, Energy America, and SCANA Energy. The GPSCformed the strict billing rules to cut down on consumer confusionand billing mishaps that have plagued gas deregulation in Georgia.

The marketers indicated they needed additional time to makeprogramming changes so that their bills would be in compliance withthe rules that were recently enacted. The GPSC said all othermarketers should be in full compliance with the rules, while theaforementioned three will have till March 1.

The GPSC also rejected SCANA Energy’s request to reconsider theEmergency Rules approved on January 17, 2001 (see Daily GPI, Jan.25). The rules allow residential customers to switch gas marketersonce a month regardless of any outstanding balance owed to theircurrent marketer.

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