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PUC Poised To Accept Comments On Natural Gas Competition

The PUC’s deadline of December 12, 2013, to receive comments from interested parties on the current state of competitiveness of the natural gas market in Pennsylvania is drawing near.

On September 12, 2013, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) issued an Order requesting comments (Investigation of Pennsylvania’s Retail Natural Gas Supply Market, Docket No. I-2013-2381742), in the form of answers to eight specific questions on the current status of the competitive natural gas market in Pennsylvania.  The questions asked in the Order, range from broad — “what is the current status of the market” — down to the more granular — whether seamless move and accelerated switching time frames should be implemented.  It appears that the Commission might consider such programs as a means of achieving the goal of improving the competitiveness of the market.  The Commission’s Order specifically does not provide for reply comments.

It appears that these comments will be the foundation of an investigation in which the Commission will examine the natural gas market and seek to improve it in ways that go beyond its SEARCH process, which was mandated by the Natural Gas Competition Act, 66 Pa. C.S. § 2201 et seq., and which was completed in 2008.  As interested parties may know, remnants of that process are still working their way through the legislature in the form of House Bill 1188, which implements two of the recommendations to come out of the SEARCH process that the Commission was unable to address due to their statutory nature:  the differential in interest rates for under and over collections; and more importantly, the existence of the migration rider.

It appears that the Commission has an earnest desire to revisit the market in a more in-depth manner to the way it did in its recently concluded retail markets investigation and the electricity market.  While it is likely that the Commission will receive comments urging that the Commission eliminate the merchant function role for natural gas distribution companies, much as it was done in the electric industry, it remains to be seen whether the Commission will be willing to take on the political risk of  supporting such position.

It is not known how long this process will take, but this Commentator remains hopeful that the Commission will ultimately do what is best for the competitive markets in Pennsylvania.

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