Customer CHOICE® FAQs
Why is Columbia Gas of Ohio offering this program?
We know that consumers like to shop around for competitively-priced products and services. And we believe you should have the same opportunity for your energy needs. That's what the Customer CHOICE® program is all about.
In the past, Columbia has both purchased your gas supply for you and delivered it to your home. As a regulated company, we have simply passed the price we pay for gas directly on to you with no markup. Deregulation has opened up the marketplace so that other gas suppliers can now compete for your business, offering natural gas at competitive prices. The Customer CHOICE® program makes it easy for you to take full advantage of this new competition and selectively shop for your best natural gas price.
Aren't you giving away customers?
No. Regardless of who you choose to supply your gas, Columbia Gas of Ohio will still deliver it to your home or business. We will remain the same dedicated company you trust to deliver your gas, read your meter, assist you with billing and respond quickly to any emergency. That's what we do best.
Why should I change my gas supplier?
Potential savings. The cost of the natural gas represents approximately 65% of your monthly gas bill. You may be able to reduce that amount through Customer CHOICE®. Besides cost savings, suppliers might offer other incentives as well.
How much could I expect to save?
That depends on the supplier you choose and the program they offer. Some suppliers may offer a flat rate for a certain amount of gas. Others may offer guaranteed savings or package incentives. Just remember, gas prices may fluctuate in a competitive market, so the amount of your total savings might vary over time depending upon your supplier's plan.
Are these savings guaranteed?
Only if the supplier you choose provides a guarantee. Columbia Gas of Ohio can't guarantee any offer made by suppliers.
Do I have to make a choice?
No. Participation is voluntary. If you don't choose a supplier, Columbia Gas of Ohio will continue to provide your gas at the current regulated rate.
How will I know if I'm eligible to participate?
If you live in Columbia Gas of Ohio's service area, you are eligible. Small businesses using less than two million cubic feet of natural gas annually are also eligible. If you're not sure about your eligibility, contact us.
Is there a fee to participate?
There are no application or membership fees attached to your initial choice in the Customer CHOICE® Program. In fact, some suppliers may offer you incentives to sign up. Read your supplier's contract carefully to determine whether you will be charged a fee for switching from one supplier to another. There will be no charge for switching back to Columbia as your supplier should you decide to do so.
Is the quality of gas the same?
Yes. There are no "grades" of natural gas. The quality and safety of the gas are the same as you've always received no matter who supplies it. And Columbia still provides safe and reliable delivery of the gas to your home and business.
Why can't Columbia Gas give me lower rates and keep things as they are?
The rate Columbia Gas of Ohio charges for natural gas is set by the PUCO, based on a rather complicated formula mandated by law. Rates charged by deregulated gas suppliers are not, so they can price their gas differently. Natural gas suppliers are also able to offer you options that we as a utility cannot. For example, you might be able to lock in your gas price for a year, or buy your gas on a seasonal basis rather than monthly. They may offer different rates to different types of customers.
How does Columbia make a profit?
Columbia earns income from the transportation and delivery of your natural gas and related services we provide...not on the price of the gas itself. Charges for these services are also regulated, based on rates approved by the PUCO.
If I choose a new supplier, what services will Columbia provide me?
Columbia will still be your local gas utility. We'll read your meter, respond to emergencies, and maintain company-owned pipelines. Rest assured, we remain fully committed to providing you with the best possible service, whether you purchase your gas from Columbia or another supplier.
What standards must natural gas suppliers meet?
To qualify for the Customer CHOICE® program, all suppliers must agree to a Code of Conduct, which requires them to:
Clearly communicate customers' rights and responsibilities
Refrain from fraudulent practices
Submit to a credit check
Provide a means to resolve disputes between the supplier and the customer
How will I learn about participating suppliers?
Qualified suppliers may contact you with information using advertising, direct mail, personal contact, or other customary means to promote their services. Or you can call us for a list of participating suppliers and contact them yourself. We will update the list as new suppliers qualify.
How do I sign up for the Customer CHOICE® Program?
It's simple to enroll: You sign a written agreement with your supplier stating the terms and conditions of your purchase agreement, and you fill out a Customer Consent Form including your signature and Columbia Gas of Ohio account number. (Please note that these gas purchase agreements and their rates are currently not regulated by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.) For information regarding enrolling for the Customer CHOICE® program by telephone, please see the next frequently asked question.
Can I enroll in Customer CHOICE® by telephone?
Yes you can enroll by telephone on a call initiated by either you or the supplier.
During the telephone call, the marketer will ask you if you've reviewed the contract terms. If you say "yes," the customer enrollment is completed over the phone and you'll have seven business days to cancel. If you say "no," the marketer will review with you the terms of the offer. You can still be enrolled during that phone conversation. However, the supplier must mail you the written terms and conditions of the entire agreement within three business days. You then have seven days to cancel upon receipt of the terms and conditions. The marketer must record the complete conversation in a date-stamped audio recording and inform you that the conversation is being recorded. If any customer enrolled by phone cancels within the seven business-day cancellation period, the marketer must provide a cancellation number for verification.
How long will I have to stay with a new supplier, and can I change suppliers?
The length of your contract will be decided between you and your supplier, though your initial contract can be for no longer than one year. When your contract expires, you may change suppliers, keep the same supplier or return to Columbia Gas as your supplier. Read your supplier contract carefully to see if there might be a penalty for early termination, and to learn your rights if you should move during the contract period.
What if I want Columbia Gas to continue as my supplier?
You don't have to do a thing. If you choose not to participate in the Customer CHOICE® program, we will continue to purchase and deliver gas for you just as we always have. You don't have to notify anyone of your decision.
If I change suppliers, how will I be billed?
Your supplier may offer you billing options. You may receive a single invoice including both your supplier gas costs and your Columbia service costs or separate invoices for each. Final billing procedures will be up to your supplier, so be sure to ask before you sign. In any event, you will continue to receive monthly communications from Columbia including traditional bill messages and inserts.However your supplier bills you, questions concerning the purchase of gas should be directed to the supplier. Contact Columbia for questions concerning safety, service or gas delivery.
Can I still use Columbia's Budget Payment Plan?
If your supplier bills you through a single monthly statement from Columbia, you'll still receive a budget bill. The Budget Payment amount will be recalculated to reflect any savings from the supplier. If the supplier bills you separately for the gas cost, Columbia will continue to bill our charges on the Budget Payment Plan. Check with your supplier to see if a Budget Plan is offered on their portion of the bill.
Can I still use the Zipcheck Automatic Payment Service?
Again, this depends on how your supplier bills you. If Columbia issues the entire bill, you can remain on Zipcheck. If the supplier bills for the gas costs, Columbia will continue to offer Zipcheck for our charges. Check with your supplier before you sign a contract to see if they offer an automatic payment service, too.
Will another gas supplier be as reliable as Columbia Gas?
The Customer CHOICE® program has been designed so that you will always have gas when you need it no matter who your supplier is. We'll work closely with your supplier to make sure you never run out.
What if I have a dispute with the supplier?
First, contact the supplier and try to find a solution. If the supplier fails to make a good-faith attempt to negotiate or resolve customer complaints, Columbia has the right to terminate the supplier's participation in the CHOICE® program. If a supplier does not live up to your contract, you can always switch back to Columbia or to another supplier. Columbia will not terminate or interrupt the delivery of gas to you as a result of a dispute between you and the supplier. The PUCO can also help customers resolve disputes.
What if I fail to honor the agreement with the supplier?
You should realize that you're signing a contractual agreement, and you must honor the terms. Be sure to read all of the contract carefully to understand your rights to change suppliers or cancel under reasonable circumstances, such as relocation to an area where the program isn't available. Also, be aware of any cancellation fees that might apply. Suppliers can terminate the agreement for non-payment and stop supplying gas to you, but must provide at least 30-days written notice of termination. In this event, Columbia Gas will become your gas supplier, as we are now. If you have any questions, ask for answers in writing before you sign a contract with a supplier.
What other information is available to help me decide?
For a straightforward "Apples to Apples" comparison of suppliers' offers from the PUCO, call 1-800-686-7826 (1-800-686-1570 TDD/TTY).
If you have any comments or questions about the Customer CHOICE® program, please contact us.
CHOICE® is a registered service mark of Columbia Gas of Ohio, Inc.