Ohio Natural Gas Utility Changing Service Plans in 2012

Monday March 12, 2012
Posted at 10:10

Ohio’s largest natural gas utility will change the way it prices natural gas for some customers starting this year.

Columbia Gas of Ohio said in an email to suppliers that natural gas customers who have not selected an alternative supplier through the utility’s Customer CHOICE Program by April 1 will have their natural gas plan changed from the utility’s Standard Service Offer (SSO) to its new Standard Choice Offer (SCO).

As choice and competition were made available to Ohio’s natural gas industry, public utility monopolies like Columbia Gas were broken up and became distribution companies — responsible for distributing natural gas to customers in their service territories and maintaining natural gas pipes and related equipment. — Meanwhile, independent alternative natural gas companies, called CHOICE suppliers, were allowed to enter the area and sell gas directly to natural gas customers. As a result, Ohio natural gas customers have the power to choose whether to buy natural gas from a CHOICE supplier, at a price set by that supplier, or from the utility, at a price set by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), the state’s utility regulator.

Previously, Columbia Gas’ CHOICE-eligible customers who were free to buy their natural gas from an alternative natural gas supplier but who chose to buy their gas from the utility did so under the utility’s SSO plan, which also served customers who were ineligible for CHOICE. Now, however, the utility is making a distinction between the two types of customers: the SCO plan will be for CHOICE-eligible customers who continue to buy natural gas from the utility instead of shopping for an alternative supplier, while customers who are ineligible for CHOICE will remain with the SSO plan. Customers redefined under the new SCO plan will notice the change beginning April 1, but will not be required to shop for a supplier, enroll in the plan or opt out of anything.

The main difference, said Columbia Gas, was that CHOICE-eligible customers who have not chosen an alternative supplier will see the term “SCO” on their bills, along with the name of the supplier that the utility has contracted with to supply them.

Although the name of the SCO supplier may vary from customer to customer, Columbia Gas said that all SCO customers will pay the same monthly price for natural gas, which will be set by an auction held in February, 2012. Columbia Gas said that the auction, which will be supervised by the PUCO, will be similar to the one it holds for its SSO plan. The auction will establish the utility’s SCO Retail Price Adjustment for the entire year, which will run from April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013. The SCO will be a variable rate plan, which means the monthly price of gas for SCO customers will change based on NYMEX exchange prices for natural gas, plus the utility’s SCO Retail Price Adjustment that it secured at auction in February.

According to Columbia Gas, “CHOICE-eligible SCO customers will enjoy all the supply options that they had as an SSO customer. That means they may select a CHOICE supplier to supply their gas, or they may participate in a governmental aggregation

program if their community offers one. Similarly, CHOICE customers will be free to return to Columbia’s regulated SCO rate if they so choose.”

The utility noted that customers enrolled in its Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) program, customers in transition and customers who otherwise do not qualify under the CHOICE program will be served by a third plan called the Default Sales Service (DSS) plan. Although DSS customers will be supplied with natural gas by SCO suppliers under an agreement with the utility, DSS customers will not see the name of the SCO supplier on their bills.

Sources

“COH Choice Supplier Communication Concerning Columbia SCO,” Columbia Gas email to suppliers, Nov. 9, 2011.

Important Contact Information and Resources for Ohio Natural Gas Customers

Thursday January 12, 2012
Posted at 11:49

If you live in Ohio, natural gas is delivered to your home by one of four natural gas utilities: Columbia Gas of Ohio, Dominion East Ohio, Duke Energy Ohio or Vectren Energy Delivery of Ohio. If you’re like many residents in Ohio, you also have the power to choose which company you buy your natural gas from.

Here is some helpful information that will come in handy when contacting your Ohio natural gas utility, reporting emergencies, shopping around for a natural gas supplier, and for general information, like knowing your rights as a natural gas customer and understanding how to read your natural gas bill.

Ohio Natural Gas Utility Contact Information

Columbia Gas of Ohio
www.columbiagasohio.com
800.344.4077
For emergency service: 800.344.4077

Dominion East Ohio
www.dom.com
800.950.7989
For emergency service: 877.542.2630

Duke Energy Ohio
www.duke-energy.com/ohres
800.544.6900
For emergency service: 800.634.4300

Vectren Energy Delivery of Ohio
www.vectren.com
800.227.1376
For emergency service: 800.227.1376

How to Choose a Natural Gas Supplier if You Have Energy Choice

Choosing a natural gas supplier

Natural Gas Apples to Apples Comparison Charts:

General Consumer Information

Understanding your natural gas bill

Natural gas customers’ Bill of Rights

Natural Gas Service Area Maps:

Ohio Electric Customers are Saving Money as a Result of Deregulation

Wednesday November 23, 2011
Posted at 17:53

Spark Energy recently launched natural gas service in the Dominion East Ohio and Columbia Gas areas of Ohio, and is naturally interested in the health of both natural gas and electricity competition in the state.

In October, testimony sponsored by FirstEnergy was received by members of the Ohio House of Representatives’ Public Utility Committee showing that the deregulation of electricity markets in Ohio was a success and that customers have been able to save money off monthly utility bills as a result of competition among electricity suppliers.

According to the testimony, when the state deregulated electricity and established competitive electricity markets under Senate Bill 3 a decade ago, it created an effective structure for ensuring customers have access to lower electricity prices.

The testimony also concluded that, “Competitive markets deliver the lowest prices over the long term to customers, and the proof is undeniable. Right now, more than 2.3 million Ohioans — including more than 200,000 businesses — are saving money as a result of competition in the wholesale and retail markets.”

Given the advantages of energy competition already realized by residents and businesses, the Committee was urged to keep competition fair and open, and cautioned against adopting measures that would restrict customers’ power to choose electricity suppliers, subsidize preferred electricity generators, or unfairly favor one electricity provider over another. Such changes could undo the benefits competition has created and drive electricity prices higher for certain customers.

As an Ohioan, what has your experience been with energy competition – electricity or natural gas? Have you switched to an alternative supplier – why or why not?

Sources

FirstEnergy Executive Testifies on Success of Competitive Electricity Markets Before Ohio House Committee,” Alaska Dispatch, Oct. 19, 2011.

Ohio’s Winter Reconnect Order: How it Can Help Keep Your Lights and Gas On

Monday November 14, 2011
Posted at 14:34
Tags: ohio

If you live in Ohio, your electricity and natural gas are each delivered by one of several Ohio energy utilities. All the public utilities in the state are regulated by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). The PUCO ensures adequate availability of safe and reliable electric and natural gas service and regulates things such as rates and terms of service for utilities.

What is the Winter Reconnect Order?

As part of its duties, the PUCO issues the Winter Reconnect Order on an annual basis to all Ohio electric and natural gas utilities. The order provides a measure of protection for residential customers who have been disconnected from their electric or natural gas service or are being threatened with disconnection during the heating season. The order allows customers to pay a designated amount to keep their service from being disconnected or to restore their service in cases where it has been disconnected.

When is the Winter Reconnect Order in effect?

The Winter Reconnect Order is in effect during the heating season, which lasts from mid-October through mid-April.

How many times can I use the Winter Reconnect Order?

Electric and natural gas customers are allowed to use the Winter Reconnect Order to maintain or restore electric or natural gas service once during each heating season. The PUCO does not provide additional protections for maintaining or restoring utility service beyond the first use of the Winter Reconnect Order in a given heating season.

How much does the Winter Reconnect Order cost?

For maintaining utility service — To use the Winter Reconnect Order to maintain utility service, residential customers are required to pay a maximum of $175, which is credited to outstanding balances.

For restoring utility service — If utility service has already been disconnected, residential customers can restore service by paying a maximum of $175, which is credited to outstanding balances, and possibly a reconnection fee of no more than $36, if the PUCO has authorized a utility to charge a reconnection fee.

For requesting new utility service — For residential customers requesting new electric or natural gas service, and who have no previous balance with their utility, service may be established under the Winter Reconnect Order by paying $175 rather than paying the required security deposit. The remaining balance of the security deposit will then be added to the following month’s bill.

Percentage of Income Payment Plan Plus (PIPP Plus) customers — If a customer is on the PIPP Plus plan, or wishes to enroll, the customer is responsible for making an additional $50 payment if they owe the utility more than $175.

Who is eligible for protection under the Winter Reconnect Order?

Every Ohio electric and natural gas residential customer is eligible to use the Winter Reconnect Order, regardless of income. For customers with multiple properties, the order may only be used at the property where the customer resides.

How do I sign up for the Winter Reconnect Order?

To use the Winter Reconnect Order, contact your utility and follow its procedures. You may use your address to search for your utilities and their contact information here.

Sources

Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, “Winter Reconnect Order: Maintain Electric and Natural Gas Service.”

What Are Dominion East Ohio’s Standard Choice and Standard Service Offers?

Thursday November 3, 2011
Posted at 16:31

If you live in Dominion East Ohio’s service territory, you may be able to participate in the Energy Choice program, which allows you to choose which company you buy your natural gas from. Other customers in the gas company’s service territory may not be eligible for Energy Choice. Regardless, Dominion East will deliver natural gas to your home, even if you buy it from someone else, and will charge you a separate distribution rate for natural gas delivery that is unrelated to the price you pay for natural gas or who you buy it from.

If you can participate in the Energy Choice program and still choose to buy your natural gas from Dominion East, the utility will bill you for the gas you use, called the supply charge, under its Standard Choice Offer (SCO) rate.

If you participate in the Energy Choice Program and choose to buy your natural gas from an another certified natural gas supplier, the utility will still be responsible for sending you your bill, but your supply charge will be based on the rate you’ve signed up for with your new certified gas supplier.

If you’re not eligible to participate in Energy Choice, or are a Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) customer with Dominion East, the utility will bill you for the gas you use under its Standard Service Offer (SSO) rate.

Both the SCO and SSO rates are set each February as the result of two auctions to secure natural gas supplies for customers who don’t participate in Energy Choice. SCO customers will be assigned a natural gas supplier every April. Although the supplier may change, and a different name may appear on your bill, you’ll pay the same monthly rate as all other SCO customers.

Both SCO and SSO customers pay variable rates. Their rates are identical and change each month based on the price of natural gas at the end of the month on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), which is a sort of stock market for energy commodities like electricity and natural gas. Tacked on to this price, called the NYMEX month-end settlement price, is a retail price adjustment, or fee, that is determined during the auctions in February. Additionally, SCO customers will pay a county sales tax and SSO customers will pay an excise tax.

An SCO customer may choose to buy natural gas from an alternative supplier at any time, after which they’ll be referred to as an Energy Choice customer. Energy Choice customers will pay a rate for natural gas based on the plan they sign up for with their new supplier. If an Energy Choice customer’s contract expires or their supplier goes out of business — and the customer does not choose a new supplier — Dominion East will either assign the customer to an alternative supplier at the supplier’s Monthly Variable Rate or, if the customer prefers, place the customer on the utility’s SCO rate.

Sources

Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, “Dominion East Ohio Standard Choice Offer and Standard Service Offer.”

What is the Distribution Rate on My Columbia Gas of Ohio Bill?

Wednesday November 2, 2011
Posted at 11:39
Tags: ohio

If you live in Columbia Gas of Ohio’s service territory, Columbia Gas delivers natural gas to your home, even if you buy your gas from an alternative natural gas supplier and not from the utility. And even if you buy your gas from a third-party supplier, Columbia Gas is responsible for maintaining all the equipment it takes to deliver natural gas to your home and responding to service interruptions, including leaks and broken pipes.

As a result, your monthly Columbia Gas of Ohio bill is composed of two main parts: the supply charge, or what you pay for the natural gas that you use, and the distribution rate, or the amount Columbia Gas charges to deliver the gas to your home.

The supply charge is based on how much you pay per unit for natural gas (expressed by COH as CCF), which is determined by the plan you have with Columbia Gas or an alternative natural gas supplier that you’ve chosen to buy your gas from. The supply charge makes up about 75 to 80 percent of your bill.

On the other hand, the distribution rate on your bill is a flat fee, set and regulated by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), that allows Columbia Gas and other natural gas utilities to pay for all the things they must do to deliver gas to their customers, including installing and maintaining pipelines, reading meters, processing bills and responding to service calls. The distribution rate is fixed and does not change based on how much natural gas you use. Regardless of who you choose to buy your natural gas from, you will always be charged this distribution rate.

Sources

Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, “Columbia Gas of Ohio’s Distribution Rate.”

Ohio Gas Company Extends Pipeline Replacement to Park Ave. West, Mansfield Area

Wednesday October 12, 2011
Posted at 08:01
Tags: ohio

Columbia Gas of Ohio, the state’s largest natural gas utility, announced last week that it will soon begin replacing 2,300 feet of natural gas pipeline in the Park Avenue West, Mansfield area. The project will involve upgrading steel pipes with plastic pipes and should take several weeks to complete.

The project will affect a number of streets, including Park Avenue West, Park Street North, Fifth Street and North Main Street. The utility said that customers on the affected streets will first notice preliminary construction work, such as the staking of right of way and the inspection of sewer lines.

Customers living or working at affected properties will be receiving a letter notifying them of a public meeting to be held to discuss the project. The meeting will be held on Oct. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Relax Coffee Shop at 105 North Main Street in Mansfield. The utility will provide details of the project and answer customers’ questions.

The project will require a short interruption of natural gas service at affected properties. The utility will contact customers prior to shut-offs and to schedule re-light appointments. During the upgrade, customers’ meters will be moved to the outside of the premises at no additional cost.

The Park Avenue West, Mansfield project, expected to cost $375,000, is part of the Ohio gas utility’s massive $2 billion territory-wide pipeline replacement program that will improve 19,000 miles of underground natural gas pipe over the next 25 years.

Sources

Columbia Gas of Ohio to Spend $375,000 for Park Avenue West, Mansfield Area Pipeline Replacement Project,” Columbia Gas of Ohio press release, Oct. 5, 2011.