By FRANCA LEWIS
Residential gas customers soon can make the same kind of service choice that they do for long-distance telephone calls.
Under Columbia Choice, a test program sponsored by Columbia Gas of Maryland, the utility's 16,000 local customers have the option of choosing a different natural gas supplier, according to John Quinn, regulatory policy manager at the Columbia Gas corporate center.
Quinn and other Columbia Gas officials were in Hagerstown on Thursday to discuss the program.
The growing trend to deregulate utility markets has prompted independent companies to jump into the business of buying and reselling natural gas, Quinn said.
The purchase of gas accounts for 53 percent of a residential monthly bill, he said.
Columbia Gas will continue to provide service, Quinn said. The only difference is that independent suppliers will use the Columbia Gas pipeline to deliver natural gas to customers, he said.