The Georgia Public Service Commission (GPSC) last weekunanimously voted out two orders, one that offers customers theoption of changing gas marketers monthly and one that prohibits gasdisconnections for residential customers until April 1. A thirdorder, which will allow customers to change marketers even if theyhave outstanding debt with their previous marketer, squeaked by ona three to two vote with Commissioner Stan Wise˜and newly appointedChairman Lauren “Bubba” McDonald dissenting.

“You can game the system that way,” said McDonald. “The initialreason for it [the emergency rule] was so that a customer could notget locked in with a high priced marketer, and not be able to goback and choose.” McDonald said he felt it was not right that as aconsumer “you could just keep gaming it right on down, even thoughyou may have three marketers that you have past-dues with forwhatever the reason.”

Under the third order, residential gas consumers would be ableto switch marketers once a month as long as the option is processedbefore the 20th of the month, which coincides with the cut-off dateestablished in Atlanta Gas Light Co.’s commission approved tariffs.Even though consumers would not have to pay their old marketerbefore they switched, they would still be obligated to pay themarketer back at some point, the commission said. McDonald saidmarketers voiced their reservations about its action.

Richard Schrum, spokesman for SCANA Energy Marketing, said,”Obviously we were disappointed by the commission’s ruling. Ourprinciple concern is two-fold, one, is we think it will result inless competition because it could potentially put several of thesmaller marketers out of business if customers are allowed not topay their bills or transfer to another marketer without payingtheir bills. Also, we have some concerns that our customers thatare actually paying their bills would be subsidizing those that maybe trying to avoid paying.”

Schrum said that AGL will not be able to provide marketers withany information related to individual customers, such as notices ofpast due balances with other marketers. Under the current setup,delinquent customers would be able to switch to other marketerswith virtual anonymity.

AGL told the commission that it currently has 8,414 orders toshut off for non payment. and 45,565 accounts that are blocked fromchanging marketers out of its 1.5 million customers. AGL spokesmanNick Gold said that marketers will have some recourse. “A marketerhas the ability that when they find out what your credit history isin terms of paying bills, they then have the right to chargewhatever they deem is appropriate as a deposit for insurance,” saidGold.

As part of the ruling, residential consumers who choose toswitch more than once in a 12 month period would have to pay aswitching fee of $7.50. All three emergency rules will remain ineffect for a period of 60 days, at which point they will bereevaluated by the GPSC.

“They really did not take our advice, but we are in a positionwhere we support the commission, and we will work with them howeverwe can to enforce these rulings,” said Gold. “We will certainlyfollow the letter of the law of what they passed for theseemergency rules for the˜next 60 days, but it just puts a realhardship on not only us, but on the marketers as well.”

McDonald, who replaces Commissioner Bob Durden as chairman, willserve a one-year term, with Wise serving as vice-chairman. Thechairman also announced that he has appointed Robert B. Baker Jr.to head up the commission’s energy committee.

Alex Steis

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