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Economy and Business

Ruling cuts back regulation of natural gas prices
PUCO allows Dominion East Ohio and Columbia Gas to abolish "standard rate" for businesses

Kabir Bhatia
In The Region:
Rulings by the state this week ratchet back on regulation of gas prices for businesses in just a few months -- and prepare the state to do the same for residential customers in as little as four years. WKSU's Kabir Bhatia has more.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approved a plan to eliminate regulated rates for business customers of Columbia Gas and Dominion East Ohio. Right now, all customers who don’t choose another option get the regulated rate – which is set at an auction overseen by the state.

The gas companies pushed for the change, which will apply to Dominion’s business customers this April and could apply to homeowners in 2017.

Under the new plan, customers will have to shop around for deals from independent retailers.

PUCO spokesman Jason Gilham says that encourages competition among suppliers, and should lower gas prices. And if it doesn’t work out, “If we see it as unjust or unreasonable or it wasn’t beneficial to consumers, that nothing precludes us from going back to the standard choice offer.”

But Ohio Consumers’ Council spokesman Marty Berkowitz says the state-auction has been working well as another alternative, though utilities don’t like it. 

“It would be easier for them to just compete against each other without having to compete against that lower standard rate. We feel that the rate has been successful for customers. And it’s also a benchmark so that marketers can shoot for that amount to entice customers to buy their product.”

The change for business customers is a given. But it doesn’t automatically apply to residential customers. That will require a new set of filings and hearings to take effect in 2017.
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