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Natural gas users given choice

July 30, 1997

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

Columbia Gas of Maryland can't make a profit on the natural gas it supplies to customers because of state public utilities regulations, said Columbia Gas spokesman Steve Halvonik.

So the company's not losing anything by offering customers a chance to shop for their own gas suppliers under its two-year pilot program, Halvonik said.

Shopping around can mean significant savings to Washington County's roughly 16,000 Columbia Gas customers, who have until Sept. 30 to sign up with one of six suppliers, he said.

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Only 274 residential and 186 commercial customers in the Hagerstown and Cumberland, Md., areas took advantage of the option in the program's first year, Halvonik said.

Columbia Gas is hoping to at least triple that number through a combination of mailings and community meetings aimed at educating customers.

Area residents will have a choice of nine meetings, at three different places at various times of day, he said.

Meetings are scheduled for:

- Aug. 12 at 7 p.m., Aug. 16 at 10 a.m., Aug. 27 at 7 p.m., and Sept. 6 at 10 a.m. at the Columbia Gas of Maryland Service Center, 55 Sycamore St., Hagerstown;

- Aug. 12 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., Aug. 28 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., and Sept. 9 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Bingo Island, 920 W. Washington St., Hagerstown;

- Aug. 13 at 2 p.m. and Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. at North Hagerstown High School, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., Hagerstown.

The voluntary program, which will enter its second year on Nov. 1, allows residential and small commercial customers to shop approved companies for the best deals on their gas supply. The gas supply accounts for about 60 percent of the average $68 monthly bill, Halvonik said.

Customers can let Columbia Gas continue to provide their gas, which it tries to buy as competitively as possible, he said.

Switching could mean marked savings because unregulated gas suppliers aren't subject to the same state taxes and purchasing restrictions as Columbia Gas is as a regulated utility, Halvonik said.

Columbia Gas will continue to serve customers by delivering gas, maintaining lines, reading meters, helping with billing and responding for emergencies, he said.

The six approved suppliers are: AmeriEnergy (614-431-2800), Columbia Energy (888-224-6622), Commonwealth Energy Services (800-928-0636), Enron Capital & Trade Resources (800-837-9584), KeySpan Energy Services (888-539-7726) and ProMark Energy (800-373-4674).

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