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Ohio Supreme Court Mulls Case that Could End Gas Customer Choice

PHOTO: The Ohio Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a case that some say eliminated competitive options for some Dominion natural-gas customers in Ohio. Photo credit: Sebleouf/Wikipedia.
PHOTO: The Ohio Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a case that some say eliminated competitive options for some Dominion natural-gas customers in Ohio. Photo credit: Sebleouf/Wikipedia.
May 7, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio - It's a question of what's the public's best interest. The Ohio Supreme Court will decide whether commercial customers of Dominion will have access to the Standard Choice Offer, a natural-gas contract which price is set through an auction.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio allowed Dominion to eliminate the option in 2013 which forced customers to buy from marketers. Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy opposed the decision, and in arguments before the court Wednesday, executive director Dave Rinebolt said the Standard Choice Offer is necessary to preserve consumer choice.

"Having different ways to price gas in the market is to the advantage of consumers," he says. "Sometimes it's better to buy a fixed price contract. Sometimes it's better to buy a variable priced contract. For the last five to six years it's been better to buy from the Standard Choice offer."

The PUCO claims the Standard Choice option hindered the development of a fully competitive market. The Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision in six months.

Steven Beeler represented the PUCO in the case. He told the justices it's a misnomer the Standard Choice will always be the lower price.

"It may be right for this shortsighted period of time, but the Standard Choice rate is a market rate as well," he says. "There's nothing to say that rate could be higher or lower"

Rinebolt counters auctioning always produces a lower price than negotiating with marketers. He points out the marketers are supporting Dominion in the case.

"They make more money if they sell you directly than they do if you buy from them through the Standard Choice auction," he says. "So it's really about profit. The marketers make more money if you get rid of the Standard Choice option."

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH