Q: What is natural gas choice?
A: Natural gas choice programs are offered by each of Ohio’s four major investor-owned natural gas companies: Columbia Gas of Ohio, Dominion East Ohio, Duke Energy and Vectren Energy Delivery of Ohio. Gas choice allows customers to:
- select a natural gas marketer (or supplier) to purchase gas on the customer’s behalf;
- participate in a community or government-based buying pool (aggregation); or
- continue to purchase gas through the customer’s local natural gas company.
Q: Will a customer who chooses a natural gas marketer still be a customer of the local gas company?
A: Yes. The local gas company is still responsible for delivering gas to the customer’s home through its pipes, reading the meter, and providing other customer services (such as emergency repairs and billing.) The local gas company charges its customers for these services, which are reported as “delivery” or “distribution” charges on the customers’ bills.
Q: Is there a deadline for making a decision? How can a customer explore options?
A: There is no deadline; a customer can decide to enter into a contract to purchase natural gas from a marketer or supplier at any time. Depending on how a local government aggregation program is structured, a customer may need to opt out of the aggregation within a defined period of time. Most enrollments take between 30 to 45 days for the switch in suppliers to take place. Since selecting a marketer typically involves entering into a contract, customers should understand the terms and conditions of the agreement and carefully consider whether switching suppliers is the best individual decision for them. Questions to ask a potential marketer can include:
• Is the price offered a fixed or variable rate? What is the difference?
• How does the supplier’s rate compare to the utility price to compare on the bill
• Is there a fee to sign up?
• Is there a fee to switch if I decide to go back to my local utility company or switch marketers?
• On what date will I begin receiving service from the marketer?
• When will the marketer's charges appear on my bill?
• How long is the agreement?
• Is there a fee to cancel my agreement?
• What happens if I decide to move before the agreement expires?
• Will the agreement automatically renew at the end of the contract period? If so, at what rate and for how long? Will I be notified that the contract has renewed?
• Will I receive two bills (one from the marketer and one from my local utility company), or just one bill and from whom?
• If I have a billing problem, whom should I contact?
Q: What if a customer decides not to participate in gas choice?
A: Customers have the choice NOT to participate in a gas choice program. Customers may decide to continue purchasing their natural gas through the customer’s local utility at its “Standard Choice Offer” program (for Columbia, Dominion, Columbia and Vectren customers) or through the “Gas Cost Recovery (GCR) Rate” (Duke).
Q: Will a customer save money by participating in gas choice?
A: Gas choice programs provide no guarantee of customer savings. Gas choice programs allow customers to weigh their options and determine the price that best meets their individual needs. Some customers may feel more comfortable locking into a fixed rate for a period of time, while others may find it to their advantage to pay a variable monthly rate. Many factors, including weather, gas demand and gas production, impact the price of natural gas. It is important for customers to research available offers and compare them to the rates available through their local gas utilities.
Q: Who can provide residential customers with more information about natural gas choice?
A: The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC), the residential utility consumer advocate, publishes weekly fact sheets for Columbia, Dominion, Duke and Vectren customers.
Each fact sheet includes the current utility rate on a comparison chart with updated marketers’ natural gas offers. The chart also includes the types (fixed or variable) of rates offered, contract lengths, as well as contact information for suppliers in each utility’s respective coverage area of Ohio. To obtain free copies of “Comparing Your Energy Choices,” visit OCC’s website, www.pickocc.org, or contact OCC toll free at 1-877-PICKOCC (1-877-742-5622).
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. This article was prepared by the Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel in Columbus.