In Pennsylvania, it is now easier to switch to competitive gas providers. On October 27, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) approved a plan (Docket No. M-2015-2468991) submitted by Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) that will enable the company to more easily share its 500,000 customer account numbers with retail natural gas suppliers (NGSs) in public venues, such as shopping malls, when account numbers are not available from interested customers or from the Eligible Customer List (ECL).
Customer account numbers are needed in order for a customer to be switched to a competitive NGS. The PUC voted 5-0 to approve the implementation of natural gas account number release mechanisms for PGW.
“The commission approves PGW’s plan, believing that the proposed account number access mechanism meets our goals of allowing customers and NGSs to more easily interact and participate in the competitive market while maintaining necessary customer protections,” said PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown. “We are pleased that PGW is joining other major distribution companies in moving forward with these mechanisms.”
What exactly will those mechanisms be? On July 8, 2015, the commission adopted a Final Order directing PUC-jurisdictional NGDCs to submit for the PUC’s review and approval compliance plans for the development of a username and pass-code protected secure website portal that will, upon customer request and consent, provide NGSs with access to residential and small business account numbers that are not available on the NGDCs ECLs.
PGW’s mechanism will contain the required input fields: the customer’s full name, the service street address, and the five-digit postal code. PGW expects to be able to add additional input field functionality, such as drop-down boxes, strictly for street type and/or postal codes. However, no other drop-downs are being considered at this time due concerns about the possible effects on customer privacy and protections.
In addition, in its July 8, 2015 Order, the commission requires NGDCs to retain, for a period of at least three years, the following information: (1) when the mechanism was accessed, (2) the entity accessing the system; (3) the output of the access attempt, and (4) the data provided.
PGW’s updated cost estimate for the design and implementation of its account number access mechanism is approximately $60,000. The costs associated with ongoing operation and maintenance, including the updating and storage of ongoing data, are estimated to be $12,500 per year. The utility proposes to recover all costs associated with implementation and ongoing use of its account number access mechanism through PGW’s existing Restructuring and Consumer Education Surcharge charged to all firm ratepayers.
PGW said it expects to have its account number access mechanism in place and fully operational by December 31.
Earlier this year, the PUC had approved the development and implementation of natural gas account number mechanisms in June and September for other major natural gas distribution companies in Pennsylvania.