Retail Unbundling - California

Status: The state has partially implemented comprehensive unbundling programs for its residential customers.

Overview: California has had a customer choice program for all residential and small commercial customers (referred to as core customers) since 1995 through its core aggregation transportation program (CAT). The program allows core customers to purchase gas from marketers who have met minimum aggregation levels of 120,000 therms per year. Customers must sign a one-year agreement to purchase gas from a non-LDC supplier. According to the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), there are more than 24,000 customers of Southern California Gas (SoCal) participating in CAT, representing 4.3 percent of SoCal's total core volume, and nearly 3,000 San Diego Gas and Electric customers, representing 3.8 percent of the company's core volume. Similar participation levels exist in the Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) service area. While specific numbers are not available, small commercial customers appear to represent the majority of participants. Although legislation was passed in October 1999 which mandated that LDCs provide bundled service and be the only providers of billing and metering services, it exempted existing core aggregation programs and included the provision that consumers can choose to purchase gas from another supplier.

EIA State Data: In 2000, California had 9,370,797 residential and 413,003 commercial customers. They consumed 517 and 246 billion cubic feet of natural gas, respectively. The average prices paid for natural gas purchased from local distribution companies by residential and commercial customers were $8.21 and $7.54 per thousand cubic feet, respectively. The average city gate price in the state was $4.32 per thousand cubic feet. About 97 percent of the state's residential and commercial customers are served by three local distribution companies: San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Gas Company, and Pacific Gas and Electric.

California: Regulatory and Legislative Actions on Retail Unbundling

Summary: The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) endorsed restructuring in a collaborative settlement by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and 25 other companies on August 1, 1997, known as the Gas Accord, which gave all PG&E customers the option to purchase gas from other suppliers. In January 1998, the PUC opened a docket to investigate the possibility of restructuring gas markets statewide. After a series of hearings, the PUC identified the most promising options to consider for further study and ordered a cost/benefit analysis of these options with the intent of preparing a report of recommendations for consideration by the state legislature. Legislation was enacted in August 1998 that prohibited the PUC from taking any restructuring action before 2000. This legislation was superseded in October 1999 by Assembly Bill 1421 that mandates bundled service by utilities and requires them to be the sole providers of billing and metering services. The PUC is continuing its hearings as preparation for its intended report to the legislature.

Regulatory and Legislative Actions
Legislation 10/99 Legislation Mandating Bundled Service by Utilities (Assembly Bill 1421). Supersedes prior law that prohibited PUC action on restructuring before 1/1/2000. Mandates that LDCs provide bundled service and be the only providers of billing and metering services. However, it exempts existing core aggregation programs and includes provision that consumers can choose to purchase gas from another supplier.
8/98 Legislation Allowing PUC To Investigate Restructuring But Limiting Action (Senate Bill 1602 enacted 8/28/98, creating Section 328 of Public Utility Code). Legislation allows PUC to investigate restructuring but prohibits any action until 1/1/2000 and disallows any restructuring decisions made after 7/1/98 affecting core customers.
Regulatory Action 12/01 PUC adopts modifed comprehensive settlement for SoCal (see 10/01 below, 99-07-003). Decision (3-2) allows for tradable storage rights and transmission capacity on Socal and San Diego Gas & Electric Co.'s intrastate systems. These lines transport gas to smaller distribution systems within the state. The decision reduces the core aggregation transportation (CAT) program minimum size to 120,000 therms to provide statewide consistency (conforms to PG&E threshold) and removes the cap on core aggregation. Also recommends that the legislature act on consumer protection measures for those using CTAs and ESPs (providing both electricity and gas) in order to eliminate obstacles to competition. Eliminates core subscription program, so that "all noncore eligible customers must either choose a competitive provider for gas commodity service or take service from SoCal at core rates. Allows a billing credit when core aggregators include the utility's billing to their customers. Schedules upcoming proceeding re gas industry structure in post-2002 period. Requires a "market assessment report" 2 years after effective date of the tariff
11/01 Alternate Proposed Final Opinion re Restructuring Options (99-07-003) (Commissioner Carl Wood). Approves a modified interim settlement (IS) rather than the comprehensive settlement (CS) recommended by ALJ John Wong. Provisions would : (1) establish Hector Road as a formal receipt point on SoCalGas' system at which nominations may be made; (2) provide for the establishment of "pools" of gas on the SoCalGas transmission system to increase the liquidity of trading of gas supplies; (3) allow trading of imbalances to some extent. Would not unbundle core interstate transportation from rates at this time. Would eliminate core contribution to noncore interstate transition cost surcharges (ITCS) and the core subscription option as well as the caps and thresholds for core aggregation programs following PUC implementation of consumer protections. Would reduce the core aggregation program threshold and offer billing options to core aggregators.
10/01 Proposed Final Opinion re Restructuring Options (99-07-003). Approves a modified "comprehensive settlement" - one of three contested settlement proposals addressing options raised in D99-07-015 as applied to the SoCal and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. gas systems. The decision would reduce the CAT program minimum size to 120,000 therms and remove the cap on core aggregation. Would eliminate core subscription program, so that "all noncore eligible customers must either choose a competitive provider for gas commodity service or take service from SoCal at core rates."
7/99 New Docket for Considering Costs and Benefits of Various Promising Restructuring Options (99-07-003). The PUC opened a new docket to address the benefits and service costs of various "promising" restructuring options, including effects on labor, safety, consumers, and environment. The order sets a 60-day period for parties to reach consensus on a new market structure that would also allow LDCs to continue offering full service to its core customers. If no consensus is reached, testimony and hearings are scheduled for Sept - Dec 1999. At the end of hearings, the PUC intends to report its findings to the legislature.
7/99 PUC Identification of Most Promising Restructuring Options (Decision 99-07-015). The PUC identified the "most promising" options to consider for restructuring the CA gas industry and closed the Order Instituting Investigation (OIR) R.98-01-011. These options include: creation of firm, tradable intrastate transmission and storage rights; establishment of secondary markets; making utilities "at risk" for unused transmission and storage resources; cost and rate separation for balancing services; separation of utility hub services from supply purchases; unbundling supply and distribution costs for core customers; elimination of core subscription service; elimination of core aggregation transportation thresholds (after consumer protection measures are in place); competitive metering technologies and competitive billing options (like electric industry); equal access to customer-specific information, transaction details, and pipeline operator demand forecasts by customer class; and establishment of a utility electronic bulletin board for secondary market transactions.
10/98 New Inquiry Schedule and Postponement. The PUC issued D.98-10-028 establishing a new schedule for its inquiry hearings and testimony and postponing any decisions until after 1/1/2000. As per 8/98 legislation, eliminates requirement of 8/6/98 order (see "Goals of PUC Inquiry") that LDCs file unbundled tariffs by 2/26/99.
8/98 Goals of PUC Inquiry. Interim Order, D.98-08-30. The PUC set goals of inquiry and short-term steps to aid in assessing possible market reform. Stated goals are to: complement benefits of electric restructuring, eliminate unnecessary cross-subsidies, remove unnecessary market barriers, enhance competition by unbundling supply and distribution services, ensure service reliability and safety, provide sufficient consumer protection, and ensure rates reflect cost of service. As first steps in assessing possible restructuring: LDCs are to categorize costs of each service by function in unbundling tariff filings by 2/26/99; those LDCs with "core aggregation programs" are to remove threshold limits and file tariffs accordingly; and the Energy Division is charged with developing consumer protection rules.
1/98 Investigation into Restructuring Natural Gas Markets. The PUC opened Order Instituting Rulemaking (OIR) R.98-01-011 on 1/21/98 to assess existing regulatory and market structures and possible reforms that would lead to more competitive markets and energy convergence.

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File last modified: 06/14/2002