Pittsburgh-based retail energy provider Direct Energy is plunging into the retail natural gas market in California, going after all sizes of commercial and industrial customers to add to its residential mix.

A unit of UK-based Centrica plc, Direct has been active in California’s retail power market since 2007, when it acquired Strategic Energy. It now eyes the gas market as providing more competitive opportunities for customers that want to select a supply to compete with Sempra Energy’s Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas and Electric Co., and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E).

California’s largest gas consumers, or “noncore” customers, have been purchasing gas supplies for many years. A California-based Direct Energy official told NGI that her company intends to go after the largest customers eventually, and more immediately commercial/industrial firms.

“We’ve been analyzing the gas market and looking at the opportunities, and decided we wanted to offer gas services to existing power customers and to others beyond the state-set limits on the number of power customers we can serve,” said spokeswoman Andrea Morrison. Most of the initial gas customers would be commercial/industrial businesses.

“California has a presence in competitive energy markets with the supportive efforts of legislators and utility regulators,” according to Mike Senff, sales/marketing vice president for Direct Energy.

Direct’s officials are not saying how many electric or gas customers they have in California, or specifying where their gas supplies are located. The company doesn’t own any reserves, Morrison said. The assault on California gas customers has been gradual, she said.

“At this point Direct is serving the core load [residential up through small industrial], but with the intention of also offering noncore products.”

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