Stung by a hearing officer’s $323,000 fine for affiliatefavoritism and tariff violations, Providence Gas Co. (ProvGas) saidlast week the “unusual proceedings” went “substantially beyond thescope of issues originally” raised by an Aurora Natural Gascomplaint. The Rhode Island utility filed a request forreconsideration, rehearing and a stay of the decision, saying thelargest portion of the fine is a free ticket to marketers forwinter storage and peaking services they already received.

Hearing Officer Stephen T. Scialabba ruled the utility madeunauthorized changes in its unbundling pilot last winter thatfavored its affiliated retail marketing division. Scialabba saidProvGas treated similarly situated marketers differently andordered the utility to balance out its treatment through refunds.But ProvGas said the hearing officer has it all wrong because themarketers in question were not similarly situated. Besides, there”can be no refunds unless and until FT-2 marketers prove actual andspecific damages,” ProvGas said, citing a number of Supreme Courtcases. It said Aurora never did prove it was injured by the pilotprogram changes.

ProvGas also said it wasn’t given reasonable time to contestsome of the issues raised in the latter part of the case andincluded in the hearing officer’s decision, and therefore should beafforded another opportunity to discuss the issues. “At no timeprior to the issuance of the decision did the division notify PGCthat it was investigating the shared use of weather service data asa violation of any particular provisions of the regulations, andthe issue has thus not been subject to argument and brief,” ProvGassaid. “In any event, PGC believes that the decision’s finding of incorrect.” Weather data is readily available and bysharing it with its affiliate it was not providing critical marketinformation related to gas transportation, the utility said.

Some of the other fines were for violations of new commissionrules on affiliate marketing practices. But ProvGas believes thefines for the misuse of corporate logos were a result of amisinterpretation of the new rules. The marketing practices inquestion actually are used by a number of other jurisdictionalcompanies, who interpreted the rules just as ProvGas did, thecompany said. The commission rule against joint affiliate andutility company marketing “was not intended to prohibit all jointmarketing.”

Rocco Canonica

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