ARE NATURAL GAS UTILITIES DIFFERENT FROM THEIR ELECtric counterparts? Now that customer choice has become available in a few spots on the East and West coasts, can we expect some of the same opportunities to open up for gas consumers? Or are the industries incomparable, without lessons to learn from each other?
For the Fortnightly's 1998 Gas Industry Executives' Forum, we asked key industry players (em three utility CEOs (one representing his industry association), plus a regulator, a consultant and a consumer advocate (em to share their views and shed some light on the future of the natural gas industry.
Overall, most agree the connection between electric industry restructuring and natural gas unbundling is more than just coincidence. As Craig G. Matthews, president of Brooklyn Union Gas puts it, the worldwide community is in the midst of the idea that "competition is better than trying to have regulators decide what the market wants."
However, choice won't happen overnight. A slow, deliberate move toward a single energy provider is envisioned by several respondents. Vinod Dar, managing director of Hagler Bailly Consultants, sees a time when natural gas will become more of an intermediate product than a final product.
To get a snapshot of the market, we posed these questions:
ELECTRIC DEREGULATION. How will electric deregulation affect the natural gas industry?
HOURLY PRICING. Will hourly pricing in electricity put pressure on gas to revamp its current practice of weekly or daily pricing?
CONSUMER SAVINGS? Can residential and small commercial customers really expect to see savings in gas prices? Or is customer choice more of a philosophical goal?