Natural gas customers could see lower prices, deregulated market

Natural gas prices could be dropping thanks to deregulation.
Natural gas prices could be dropping thanks to deregulation.

(Toledo News Now) - Lower natural gas prices could be coming to customers of Columbia Gas thanks to action taken by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

The Commission said the utility can eliminate regulated pricing for households but with certain conditions.

This is a significant step in a process began in the 1990s when it began to allow households to buy gas from companies other than Columbia Gas.

"What that did is decided when we get a majority of our customers to decide they want to be enrolled in the choice program, Columbia Gas will exit the market function, will go right to a straight choice program for all of our customers," said Chris Kozak of Columbia Gas.

Two factors will come into play:

First, Columbia Gas must get open enrollment in the choice program up to 70 percent. Right now it stands at 41 percent.

And second, the deadline for doing so is April of 2017.

"It gives us a 5-year plan to go out and let the market decide what they want to do, where they want to purchase their gas from, make an informed decision," Kozak explained.

Supporters of deregulation say the action will lead to greater competition and lower prices, but opponents disagree. They believe that a few dominant suppliers no longer will have to compete with the regulated price.

"What it means to Columbia Gas customers is it's going to give them a chance to look at the market, determine where [they're] buying gas from, what [they're] paying and at the end of the day drive [their] gas bill down," Kozak said.

Columbia Gas doesn't make any money from the sale of gas, but the Columbus Dispatch reports its main interest in the plan comes from related provisions that will provide financial benefits, such as a contract to sell pipeline capacity owned by a sister company.

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