GA gas providers supply natural gas to nearly 1.8 million residential customers and more than 126,000 commercial customers annually. Customers of residential natural gas service consume approximately 119 billion cubic feet of natural gas yearly while commercial natural gas service customers use an estimated 52 billion cubic feet. According to recent data the average price paid for gas service is $18.26 for residential customers and $14.30 for commercial customers per thousand cubic foot.
Since 1999 all residential natural gas customers in Atlanta Gas Light Company’s (AGL) service territory are required to purchase their gas supply from marketers certified by the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC). About 1.5 million customers reside within AGL’s territory, which represent more than 80 percent of residential gas customers in the state of GA. AGL is no longer a direct gas provider but continues to operate and maintain pipe lines, respond to leaks and other emergencies, and provide distribution and transportation services.
Legislation passed by the GA Assembly in 1997 allowed the state’s two investor-owned gas providers, AGL and United Cities Gas Company, a division of Atmos Energy Corporation, to unbundle services. This allowed AGL to offer gas provider choice to its customers. In 1999 the GA Public Service Commission determined that enough customers had chosen service from gas marketers to create sufficient competition to allow AGL to cease direct sales to customers.
The list of approved gas providers in GA has fluctuated since the legislation was first enacted to allow for consumer choice. As many as 19 companies once existed but not all have survived. The Public Service Commission has revised rules for gas providers. These revisions include forbidding marketers from preventing customers from switching to another gas marketer or provider or restricting marketer’s ability to trade customers. The GA Public Service Commission has also increased the requirements for financial reporting required by gas marketers.
SCANA Energy, a unit of SCANA Corporation, was selected in 2002 as the regulated gas provider to serve low-income customer and those who are unable to receive service from a GA gas marketer. The Public Service Commission approved a lowest-cost pricing plan as well as a special discounted rate for senior citizens regardless of income level. The reimbursement for non-paying, low-income customers comes from GA’s universal service fund. This fund is financed by collected surcharges on large industrial gas consumers. The contract for the regulated gas provider is reviewed periodically and the Public Service Commission selects the gas provider through a competitive bid process among certified marketers.
The Natural Gas Consumers’ Relief Act of 2002 revised the Natural Gas Competition and Deregulation Act of 1997. This legislation gave the Public Service Commission the authority to issue emergency orders including gas price regulations if it determines that market conditions among gas providers in GA are no longer competitive. This is specifically determined if 90 percent of customers are served by three or fewer gas marketers. The Act also protects both residential and commercial customers with a bill of rights, provides for a regulated gas provider, and removes legal restrictions that prevent electric companies from selling natural gas.