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AEC: Utility Commissioners Push for Natural Gas

AEC is sounding the alarm about a new threat to oil heat that is far broader than any posed by an individual gas utility. The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), a Washington, D.C., group, has established a “Natural Gas Access and Expansion Task Force” to study ways to bring natural gas to “un-served” or “under-served” areas of the country, writes Thomas J. Tubman, executive director of the American Energy Coalition.

A press release describing NARUC’s new initiative states: “Many rural communities, which comprise residential, industrial and commercial customers, lack access to low cost natural gas because of infrastructure issues—local distribution lines and gas utility services are unavailable. These communities must rely on bottled propane, heating oil and other more expensive fuels.  The Natural Gas Access and Expansion Task Force will analyze the potential demand for the service extension and expansion of natural gas infrastructure and identify alternative or unconventional approaches to reaching these un-served or underserved areas.”

The press release goes on to discuss interstate pipeline infrastructure regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. During the NARUC 2017 winter meeting, according to the press release, NARUC passed a resolution that, among other goals, looks to: “ensure continued member education and initiatives on issues related to the appropriateness of expedited review of interstate natural gas pipeline siting.  In other words, the group is advocating for expanded interstate pipeline capacity, and quickly. (For a copy of the April 17 press release, go to: http://pubs.naruc.org/pub/DADF16C4-9FEB-96A7-9228-E32CA5B5F549.)

So now, in addition to regional threats coming from local distribution companies or local gas utilities as they are better known within the industry, we have a national effort to expand natural gas infrastructure to serve new rural areas with the target being oil-heated (and propane-heated) homes. And the group is looking for creative ways to support the cost to accomplish this new desired gas expansion. Be assured, the AEC will be following this new threat and, in partnership with state oil heat associations, will respond appropriately and keep you up to date on new developments. The NARUC website is: https://www.naruc.org/. The group describes itself as a non-profit organization founded in 1889 whose members include governmental agencies that are engaged in the regulation of utilities and carriers in the fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. NARUC’s member agencies regulate telecommunications, energy, and water utilities. NARUC represents the interests of State public utility commissions before the three branches of the Federal government.”

Here is an update on a separate matter that the AEC reported on in the March issue of Fuel Oil News, related to events in Pennsylvania involving two natural gas utilities, Peoples Gas and Columbia Gas.  The utilities are aggressively marketing expansion campaigns. The AEC, working with the Pennsylvania Petroleum Association and local retailers, have deployed, or are in the process of deploying, four separate post cards or “Every Door Direct Mail” post card campaigns warning homeowners that the promise of a free gas line is too good to be true. For a few who have converted, and have received their first monthly gas bill, the reality of a free gas line comes with a natural gas bill with a commodity price that is 200% to 300% higher than surrounding Peoples Gas and Columbia Gas Customers pay. Local newspapers are reporting complaints from new natural gas customers receiving monthly bills in excess of $300 for one month’s service.

Thomas J. Tubman is the executive director of the American Energy Coalition, which promotes the benefits of oil heat in comparison to other energy sources, particularly natural gas.

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