By the OGJ Online Staff
HOUSTON, Aug. 17 -- With a record number of Georgia state consumers defaulting on their natural gas bills, the Georgia Public Service Commission approved Atlanta Gas Light Co.'s request to allow unlimited service disconnections and reconnections for nonpayment.
But regulators denied Shell Energy, a unit of Shell Oil Co., Houston, permission to connect and disconnect 7 days/week. More than 40,000 Georgians have their natural gas service shut off because they haven't paid their bills and more than 100,000 are at risk of having service terminated, state regulators said.
Since Apr. 1, the number of shut off cases in Georgia is 120% higher than the monthly average of the past 5 years. Regulators blamed high gas prices and the fact that the winter was one of the coldest on record, increasing customer demand for higher-priced gas.
With fall approaching, the huge rise in disconnections will compound problems with the historical 30% spike in reconnection requests during the first cold snap, regulators warned. Because reconnections require a service call, Georgia PSC said demand for service reconnections could be overwhelming once cold weather sets in, preventing them from taking place in a timely fashion.
One of the first states to permit retail natural gas competition, deregulation moved much more rapidly than regulators expected. Initially, the PSC expected one-third of Atlanta Gas Light's customers would switch to a marketer within a 2-year period, but that many switched in the first 6 months.