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Washington Gas gets competitors
(Published May 17, 1999)
By OSCAR ABEYTA
D.C. residents who pay for natural gas to cook and heat their homes can choose their natural gas provider, thanks to deregulation of the industry similar to what affected long-distance phone service over a decade ago.
Last fall, residents received notice in their gas bills that they could choose a provider other than Washington Gas.
"The deregulation of the industry allows you to shop around for the best price," said Karen Archer, spokeswoman for the D.C. Public Service Commission, which regulates public utilities.
A two-year pilot program, originally limited to 13,000 households, allows consumers to sign up any time they wish by calling Washington Gas. Consumers also have the option of enrolling in the program over the internet.
"People that want choice are going to look at the program and make an informed choice," said Tom Clancy, spokesman for AFG gas providers, one of the competitors in the District.
The program, similar to ones in Maryland and Virginia, currently has over 7,000 customers taking part. Consumers have the option of staying with Washington Gas and paying their bills as they always have.
Washington Gas is still regulated by the Public Service Commission and is charged with the maintenance and safety of the pipes and infrastructure that delivers the gas and will also continue to read all the meters.
Currently three companies offer unregulated gas to consumers: AGF, United Energy and Washington Gas Energy Services, the unregulated division of Washington Gas.
One of the main advantages, Clancy said, is that customers can lock in their gas prices at a flat rate for one or two years at a time, allowing them to budget their bills and avoid seasonal fluctuations. People in the program would pay more during the summer months when gas prices are lower and less in the winter when gas prices are typically higher.
Clancy said his company offers the lower per-therm prices currently. Archer said consumers can get a worksheet from Washington Gas to figure out which supplier would be cheapest for them depending on their gas use by calling 1-877-why-choose (1-877-949-2466).
A directive issued April 2 by the PSC let consumers see on their bills the prices they were paying for the gas itself separately from the charges for the delivery of the gas. This now allows consumers to make a more direct price comparison between gas suppliers.
The pilot program will become permanent after two years, Archer said, and the PSC is using these two years to work out any bugs that may occur.
Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator