Ohio consumer advocate wants gas price investigation
The Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) Friday asked the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to investigate the causes of high natural gas prices and to review 'significant setbacks' to natural gas choice programs. With the recent termination of several natural gas suppliers, thousands of consumers were forced to return to their local distribution company with little or no notice, and pay a higher rate.
The Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) Friday asked the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to investigate the causes of high natural gas prices and to review "significant setbacks" to natural gas choice programs.
With the recent termination of several natural gas suppliers, thousands of consumers were forced to return to their local distribution company with little or no notice, and pay a higher rate. The OCC, which serves as the legal representative and residential consumer utility advocate for Ohioans, said it's concerned that even though customers in the Columbia Gas of Ohio customer choice program have saved $90 million as a result of choosing a new gas supplier, disillusioned consumers may feel the program has failed.
Fewer than 10,000 consumers remain in the Cincinnati Gas & Electric Co. choice program, and currently there is no supplier accepting customers at competitive rates.
"We've talked to consumers who complain because they are confused about how to enroll with a marketer, who find the process too difficult, who are angry about marketers failing to live up to their contracts, and who are disenchanted with deregulation in general,'' said Robert S. Tongren, consumers' counsel.
If the commission approves the gas cost recovery filings of Columbia Gas of Ohio, a unit of NiSource Inc.; Vectren Energy Delivery of Ohio, a unit of Vectren Corp.; and Dominion East Ohio, a unit of Dominion Resources Inc.; Tongren said consumers will be paying 79%, 118%, and 132%, respectively, more for the price of the natural gas today than they were a year ago.
He said high natural gas prices are forcing some consumers to choose from "medical care, buying food, or heating their homes."
The OCC urges the commission to conduct an investigation with the OCC's assistance to determine:
� What alternatives are and should be made available for consumers who may not be eligible for low income assistance programs, but still cannot pay their bills.
� The cause of rising natural gas prices.
� What the state of Ohio can do to prevent natural gas costs in the future.
� The appropriateness of the natural gas rates currently being charged to customers
� The appropriate management of the gas purchasing and procurement policies of Ohio's four largest natural gas distribution companies.
� The current state of Ohio's natural gas choice programs and identify options to improve the existing programs.
� How meaningful natural gas choice options can help consumers better manage their gas costs in the future.