Ohio Supreme Court hears arguments on commercial access to cheaper natural gas prices

Source: Akron Beacon Journal

The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday heard oral arguments on whether commercial customers should be given access to cheap natural gas prices.

In 2013, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio allowed Dominion East Ohio to eliminate the Standard Choice Offer, or SCO, for commercial or nonresidential customers. The SCO is the monthly variable price offered by suppliers via Dominion based on a state-approved formula. In recent years with successful competitive auction results and low gas prices and high gas supply, the SCO has been cheaper than variable or fixed prices offered by marketers.

Consumer advocates at the time said removing the benchmark was unfair, and the system wasn’t broken.

Dominion officials said the market could become more competitive if the SCO wasn’t available to commercial customers.

The Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy in 2013 appealed the PUCO decision to the Supreme Court. It took two years to get a hearing, said Dave Reinbolt, executive director and legal counsel.

“There’s a real easy remedy here. They still have an SCO available for residential [customers]. They need to let commercial customers get back to that,” said Reinbolt, who expects a decision within six months.

The SCO remains available for Dominion residential customers.

In a March 2015 interview, Dominion Vice President Jeff Murphy said there is still a lot of confusion about energy choice and the earliest Dominion would eliminate the SCO would be 2017, but no decisions have been made.

Dominion doesn’t provide the gas for the SCO and got out of the gas-buying business several years ago. It doesn’t make money on the SCO, but holds an auction yearly and has marketers who agree to provide gas to residents at the SCO price.

Regarding Wednesday’s oral arguments, Murphy said, “We believe the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio decided the case correctly. We did not hear anything in today’s arguments that would cause us to change that opinion.”

Officials at PUCO did not return a call for comment.