Retail gas competition is starting to pick up speed inCalifornia despite continued consumer apathy, according to a surveyof the state’s three gas distribution utilities released last week.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) now has 16 marketersaggregating loads; two years ago, it had only four. SouthernCalifornia Gas (SoCalGas) has 12 aggregators now, compared to abouta half-dozen a year ago; and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E)reports six current aggregators. On the Internet, SoCalGas reportsthat the joint Energy Marketplace website that it operates withPG&E currently has seven marketers involved in northernCalifornia and six in the southern half of the state.

Despite the growth in the number of marketers and aggregators,however, PG&E is experiencing the only meaningful expansion ofactual aggregation, and the vast bulk of the growth is limited tosmall business customers, with little or no growth amongresidential customers.

PG&E reported growth of 17% and 11% for the total meters andgas volumes, respectively, covered by competing suppliers over thepast year. And over the past two years those same categories haveincreased 44% and 37%, respectively.

Overall, the three investor-owned gas utilities currently haveabout 22,000 meters (accounts) participating in gas aggregation,representing a total annual load of about 33 to 34 Bcf. SDG&Ehas experienced a small increase in the total volume of gas, but a1% drop in the number of meters (1,006) in the program. SoCalGashas remained about the same with more than 10,000 meters and 17 Bcfof core supplies involved in aggregation, representing about 5% ofits total core throughput.

Jerry Miller, PG&E’s director of gas industry restructuring,is optimistic the volumes will increase once aggregators andmarketer make a concerted effort to ramp up volumes. Mostparticipants are still getting their internal operating structuresin place to compete in both electricity and natural gas aggregationlonger term. Except for two firms, Miller said, for the most partthe marketers are maintaining separate staffs for power and gasaggregation and going after separate customers.

“There is some crossover, but not a lot yet,” Miller said. “Manyplayers are just trying to get their feet wet with core markets tounderstand longer term what it is going to take to succeed in thosemarkets. They don’t have a lot of experience in the core marketsyet. But down the line, they will do both [power and gas] to thecore customers.”

As a means of stimulating more customer and marketer interest,SoCalGas earlier this month started completing direct accessrequests electronically, switching customers from utility gasbuying services to an aggregator through use of the Internet”Marketplace” website. The move makes it easier and less costly foraggregators to switch customers because all they need to do it ishave Net access.

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