The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interviewed the American Coalition of Competitive Energy Suppliers (ACCES) on the topic of natural gas consumer education in Pennsylvania as compared with electric choice consumer education and the future of the natural gas retail market in the state.
Written by: Michael Sanserino
Pennsylvania’s competitive electricity marketplace has received a lot of attention in recent months, mostly due to a bitterly cold winter that sent prices in variable rate plans through the roof.
Yet, despite a few setbacks, the marketplace is robust. Data shows 37.9 percent of all customers participate in the marketplace and it carries 66.9 percent of the state’s electricity load, earning Pennsylvania the ranking of second-best marketplace, according to Distributed Energy Financial Group LLC, a Washington, D.C., management consulting firm.
Meanwhile, the state’s competitive natural gas marketplace has yet to ignite.
Just 13.5 percent of natural gas consumers have switched from their default gas utility — such as Peoples Natural Gas or Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania — to a competitive supplier. While that number includes commercial, industrial and residential customers, the level of acceptance by residential customers alone is even lower — 12.5 percent.
In September, when the competitive gas marketplace accounted for just 13 percent of all subscribers, the PUC began an investigation. Commissioners Pamela Witmer and James Cawley called the marketplace “dismal.”
That investigation — the second the PUC has initiated into the struggles of the state’s competitive natural gas marketplace — is ongoing. “Given the tremendous natural gas resources that exist in the commonwealth, there is great excitement over the potential to grow the use of natural gas,” Ms. Witmer and Mr. Cawley said in a news release.
This isn’t the first time that American consumers have seen a transition from an approved monopoly to a competitive utility market. Americans have become accustomed to shopping for phone service or cable service, for example.
Yet they are still warming up to the idea of shopping for energy.
“Energy choice is one of those things that seems daunting at first to consumers,” said Frank Caliva, spokesman for the American Coalition of Competitive Energy Suppliers, a trade organization in Washington, D.C.
And the natural gas market is different than the electricity market in that not every Pennsylvania resident has access to natural gas, Mr. Caliva said. About half of the state’s residents use heating fuels or electricity instead.
Companies haven’t marketed the gas competition as aggressively as electric, and the PUC has not invested as much in educating consumers about gas choice.
Despite the slow growth, Mr. Caliva said Pennsylvania still has one of the most active natural gas marketplaces in the country. He applauded the PUC for taking a proactive role in helping the marketplace develop and encouraged consumers to visit PaGasSwitch.com or www.CompetitiveEnergy.org, the American Coalition of Competitive Energy Suppliers’ website for more information about switching.
Mr. Caliva acknowledged there is room for growth, especially in Western Pennsylvania, which sits atop the largest source of natural gas in the United States but has some of the lowest enrollment numbers in the competitive marketplace.
To read the entire article, view the link below.View this News Release (external link)