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Pending Settlement Between OCC, PUCO Staff, Dominion, Energy Marketers and Others to End Rip-Offs of Some Natural Gas Customers in “Monthly Variable Rate” Program

In 2018, OCC filed a motion asking the PUCO to shut down an obscure, state-approved ‘Monthly Variable Rate’ program that was financially harming some Dominion natural gas consumers who participated in marketer contracts. At the end of their contract, some consumers were involuntarily transferred to—and then ripped off by—natural gas marketers. Stopping this consumer rip-off has been a utility-reform ‘bucket list’ item for Ohio Consumers’ Counsel Bruce Weston.

“It is time to now close this sad chapter of price gouging of consumers in the Dominion area.” - OCC Filing August 2019

The good news is that the marketers’ unconscionable rates for these consumers will end if the PUCO commissioners approve a settlement that OCC, PUCO Staff, Dominion, Energy Marketers and others signed in early February. The bad news is that the unluckiest consumers who were involuntarily transferred to this program may have been fleeced by some marketers charging two to nearly four times Dominion Energy Ohio’s competitive market price (or SCO) for natural gas. Those consumers were hurt financially and may not even be aware of their plight.

There should be zero tolerance in Ohio for the victimizing of consumers by any marketers, and the Office of Consumers’ Counsel will seek legislation to prevent this from happening again. Kudos to the PUCO Staff and Dominion Energy for working with OCC through the long negotiations toward a result that reflects a shared focus on consumers.

The “Standard Choice Offer” (SCO) Is a Dependable Option for Saving Money on Natural Gas

Lessons learned should include a greater emphasis on gas utilities’ standard offers as a way for consumers to save money. 

The competitively bid “Standard Choice Offer” is a dependable option for saving money on natural gas. The competitive energy market is working to save consumers money, reflecting that the Ohio region has among the lowest gas prices in the world. Ohio Natural Gas consumers who get their gas supply through a marketer can contact their utility to choose the competitive “Standard Choice Offer as a conservative option for saving money on their natural gas bills. Before switching to the utility’s Standard Choice Offer, customers under contract with a marketer should first learn if they would owe an early termination fee.

Marketers charging consumers high Monthly Variable Rate (MVR) prices for natural gas in Dominion’s area.

Marketer

MVR Rate $/Mcf as of Feb, 5 2020

% of Standard Choice Offer (SCO) Price ($2.378)* 

Verde Energy USA Ohio

$9.25

389% (almost 4 times SCO)

North American Power & Gas

$7.99

336%

Ohio Gas & Electric

$6.50

273%

Snyder Bros. Marketing

$5.99

252%

Ohio Natural Gas

$5.19

218%

Kratos  

$4.93

207%

Quake Energy

$4.76

200% (double the SCO)

*SCO = Dominion’s competitively bid Standard Choice Offer, effective Jan 15 to Feb 12, 2020

Kudos also to the Akron Beacon Journal Editorial Board for helping to bring this issue to light: “Beacon Journal Editorial Board: Good advice from the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel to the PUCO” https://www.ohio.com/akron/editorial/beacon-journal-ohio-com-editorial-board-good-advice-from-the-ohio-consumers-counsel-to-the-puco

For additional information, see the following story from Akron Beacon Journal Consumer Columnist, Betty Lin-Fisher: "Opinion: Proposed natural gas settlement is good news" https://www.beaconjournal.com/news/20200214/betty-lin-fisher-proposed-natural-gas-settlement-is-good-news?rssfeed=true

Standard Choice Offer Factsheet

To learn more about Natural Gas Consumer Issues, please visit http://www.occ.ohio.gov/naturalgas.