For a local man, after two years of trying to switch his natural gas provider, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.
John Shoff has been trying to take advantage of the deregulated energy market in Alberta and switch his electricity and gas retailer, as other companies in Alberta are offering competitive contracts. He has since hit roadblocks on the gas side. He explains when he initially tried to switch in 2007, he learned that Altagas’ billing system was not compatible with other companies in Alberta. Because of this, it appears other retailers were either unable or hesitant to take on customers in areas where Altagas was the distributor.
That has since changed as Geoff Scotton, senior communications advisor for the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) explains.
“There was a technical issue around the tariff billing code. This is the set and format of information that is sent by the distributor to bill the customer,” said Scotton.
“A couple years ago Altagas sought an exemption from having to adhere to the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) rule on how the tariff code would be delivered. They were turned down, and subsequently had to adhere to those requirements, but in order to do so they had to re-jig its IT systems. They were able to do that about a month ago.”
Shoff noticed the change when he surveyed his monthly bill, it now contained a Site Identification Number, a signal to him that the billing systems were compatible.
Earl Tuele, president of Altagas, said there are no roadblocks on the Altagas end.
“I’m surprised he has had trouble in the last couple weeks,” said Tuele. “Since then we have modified and upgraded our billing system to accommodate the electronic transfers of all information related to retail supply of gas to our customers if they choose to register with a retailer.”
Shoff promptly called ENMAX to make the switch, however he was once again unsuccessful. He was told there was no agreement in place between Altagas and ENMAX.
Scotton explains a number of steps need to be taken before a new retailer can break in to a new territory.
“When the legislation was changed and opened the market to retail competition in natural gas, it provided the possibility of competition, but didn’t mandate that competition occur. In other words, it didn’t order retailers to provide retail access to their services everywhere in Alberta," said Scotton. “What is required is a retailer must reach an agreement with a supplier.”
He explains the two parties must reach an agreement to bring terms and conditions into concert.
“For that to happen, a retailer must pursue that agreement with the distributor,” said Scotton, adding this could already be in the process of being completed, and it would have to be approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission.
Tuele says there is no reason another retailer cannot pursue an agreement with Altagas.
“I made some enquiries in the last while to see if, for a retailer, there were any impediments of registering with us, and I am assured there are not. I also enquired if there are any impediments in our billing system to customers enrolling to be supplied by a retailer and I am assured there are not,” said Tuele.
He also says he understands they are in the process of having these conditions approved.
“Right now we are working with the AUC for final approval of our terms and conditions. We have them in place and we have an agreement that we can use them to sign up retailers and enrol customers, but if there are any changes that come out of this as a result of our discussions with the regulators, then we’ll make those changes. There is nothing in that process that I am aware of that stops retailers from signing up customers in our area, registering with us to be a retailer in our area.
“We’re ready as we can be right now.”
For Shoff, the bottom line is he is still not able to choose a retailer.
“The way I see it, it kind of seems like we are in a monopoly,” said Shoff. “That is my frustration, it has taken so long. Now that we have Site I.D. how long is it going to take to get this retailers agreement in place?”
“Maybe Altagas has the best price, but I want to be able to go to Direct Energy, or ENMAX, any of the ones that I am supposedly allowed to and see which has the best rate.”
For his next step, Shoff is planning to make an appeal to the Alberta Utilities Commission.