FortisBC encourages education about Customer Choice program on the Island

Understand your options before you sign a consumer agreement

SURREY, B.C., Aug. 25, 2015 /CNW/ - With the launch of the Customer Choice residential program in Whistler, Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and Powell River beginning in November, FortisBC is encouraging customers to take their time and make the choice that's right for them. Part of this decision is reviewing information about Customer Choice – either from the guide the gas marketer is required to provide customers or from the FortisBC website.

"We encourage customers to ask the marketer questions about the terms of the contract, including the length of the contract, the price of natural gas throughout the duration of the contract, and what happens if you move," said Roger Dall'Antonia, executive vice president, customer service & regulatory affairs, FortisBC. "Gas marketers are required to provide this information, and customers can find more questions to ask on our website."

Through the Customer Choice program, licensed natural gas marketers began selling long-term, fixed price natural gas contracts to residential natural gas users in Whistler, Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and Powell River as of August 1, 2015. Contracts signed now will take effect after the program begins in November. Customer Choice in these regions was brought about through amalgamation of our three natural gas companies January 1, resulting in all customers having access to the same programs and services across our service territories. The program has been available to natural gas customers in the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, Interior and Kootenays since 2007.

Details about the Customer Choice program and questions to ask a gas marketer are available at fortisbc.com/choice. Customers may also consider the following information when deciding if Customer Choice is right for them:

  • Gas prices quoted by marketers are not regulated by the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC), however, the BCUC is responsible for licensing gas marketing companies and ensuring they adhere to a code of conduct.
  • Most gas marketers have the discretion to allow customers to return to the FortisBC variable rate on the anniversary date of the contract. Penalties and stipulations that arise from the early termination of contracts vary. FortisBC does not charge any fees if a customer chooses to return to the variable rate.
  • If customers have a problem with their gas marketer agreement, they should first contact the marketer to resolve the matter. If the issue is not resolved, customers can log a dispute about their gas marketer agreement with the BCUC. Visit fortisbc.com/choice for the link to do this online or contact FortisBC customer service.
  • If customers do not have a contract with a gas marketer but wish to log a complaint about a gas marketer's business practices, they can do so on bcuc.com.

All parties involved in the Customer Choice program work together to improve the program continually. Each year, the program is reviewed by FortisBC, the BCUC, various customer groups and all licensed gas marketers. The review process identifies opportunities to improve the program for current and future customers, and involves a workshop to discuss the business rules of the program, systems solutions, and customer protection and education. Based on the workshop discussion, FortisBC submits recommendations for changes and improvements to the BCUC in the form of a report describing what should be approved and implemented. The most recent report was filed by FortisBC in August, and a decision is expected by the BCUC this fall. The report is available on fortisbc.com and bcuc.com.

See backgrounder for more information on the Customer Choice program.

FortisBC is a regulated utility focused on providing safe and reliable energy, including natural gas, electricity and propane. FortisBC employs more than 2,200 British Columbians and serves approximately 1.1 million customers in 135 B.C. communities. FortisBC owns and operates two liquefied natural gas storage facilities and four regulated hydroelectric generating plants, approximately 7,150 kilometres of transmission and distribution power lines, and approximately 46,000 kilometres of natural gas transmission and distribution pipelines. FortisBC Inc. and FortisBC Energy Inc. do business as FortisBC. FortisBC is indirectly, wholly owned by Fortis Inc., a leader in the North American electric and gas utility business. Fortis Inc. shares are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and trade under the symbol FTS. Additional information can be accessed at fortisinc.com or sedar.com.

Customer Choice backgrounder
In 2002, the B.C. provincial government laid the groundwork for increased consumer choice in its 2002 Energy Policy, with a statement about its desire to provide more choice for small volume natural gas consumers. Small volume consumers include residential and many commercial users. Around the same time, research conducted by FortisBC (then Terasen Gas) revealed that customers wanted help to manage their gas costs with options that included long-term, fixed-rate contracts.

In 2004, a portion of B.C.'s natural gas market was opened to competition, allowing many commercial customers to purchase gas from companies other than FortisBC. In 2006, the B.C. Utilities Commission took the final step in introducing greater customer choice by allowing residential customers to purchase natural gas from companies other than FortisBC. Residential customers in the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, Interior and Kootenays have been able to sign contracts with gas marketers since May 1, 2007. Residential and commercial customers can choose to buy natural gas from gas marketers or they can continue to buy natural gas from FortisBC. Gas marketers are allowed to offer fixed price contracts for a minimum duration of one year, and in one-year increments, up to a maximum of five years.  

Independent gas marketers were permitted by the BCUC to sell gas door-to-door in Whistler, Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and Powell River beginning August, 2015, as part of amalgamation of the gas utilities in those service areas. Contracts signed with a gas marketer for these customers will take effect after November 1, 2015.

Gas marketers are independent companies that sell natural gas directly to customers. They make money by selling natural gas under different pricing terms and conditions related to pricing. They use a variety of buying strategies to source their gas and then sell it using different pricing arrangements that allow them to earn a profit. The FortisBC variable rate is a flow-through cost to customers, meaning customers pay what we pay for the gas. FortisBC does not earn a profit from the sale of the natural gas commodity.

Some questions to ask a gas marketer before you sign a long-term supply contract:

Cover the basics:

  • What is your price in Canadian dollars per gigajoule of gas?
  • How long is the term of this contract?
  • Is the price per gigajoule of gas fixed over the entire term of the contract or can it vary?
  • How does your gas price compare to other gas marketers' fixed prices and FortisBC' variable prices?
  • What will happen to my gas supply contract if I move?

Understand the terms of the contract:

  • What is the start and end date of this contract?
  • What are the contract's renewal provisions?
  • If I am not satisfied with the agreement and want to cancel within the 10-day cancellation period, what is the best way to contact you?
  • After my 10-day cancellation period has ended, what are the rights and penalties for early termination of the agreement?
  • Does this contract end at the expiration date, or will it roll over into another contract if you receive no further direction from me?
  • What are the benefits of signing a fixed-term contract?

Clarify what you're committing to:

  • What are the financial obligations I'm committing to when I sign this contract?
  • What are the additional charges that could potentially arise from signing this contract?
  • What happens to my gas supply if your business fails?
  • Does signing this contract commit me to receive other utility services, such as electricity, telecom or cable?

FortisBC has no role in overseeing the actions of the gas marketers. The BCUC is responsible for licensing gas marketers and ensuring they adhere to a code of conduct. For more information about the code of conduct, and for a list of gas marketers licensed to do business in B.C., visit fortisbc.com/choice or bcuc.com

After signing an agreement with a gas marketer:
Residential customers receive a confirmation letter from FortisBC that provides a summary of the agreement entered into with the gas marketer. The letter also provides a deadline date by which time consumers must call the gas marketer if they want to cancel the agreement. This is the 10-day cancellation period mandated by the BCUC.

Most gas marketers have the discretion to allow customers to return to the FortisBC variable rate on the anniversary date of the contract. Gas marketer contract penalties and stipulations that arise from the early termination of contracts vary. FortisBC does not charge any fees if a customer chooses to return to the variable rate. 

Customers who wish to return to the FortisBC variable rate should check their contract for details and should contact their marketer at least 90 days before the anniversary date of their contract if they want to terminate it.

If customers have a problem with their gas marketer agreement, they should first contact the marketer to resolve the matter. If the issue is not resolved, customers can initiate logging a dispute about their gas marketer agreement by contacting FortisBC. To contact FortisBC customer service, call 1-888-224-2710.

SOURCE FortisBC

For further information: MEDIA CONTACT: Michael Allison, Manager, Corporate Communications, FortisBC, Phone: 604-592-7536, fortisbc.com, @fortisbc

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