With Fortis B.C.’s Consumer Choice program coming to Vancouver Island, Nanaimo residents could see natural gas marketers phoning or knocking on doors.
Customers purchase natural gas from Fortis, but under the program, licensed third-party providers can go door-to-door selling service as well.
While the commodity will be delivered and billed by Fortis either way, third parties allow for fixed rates, as natural gas prices are known to be volatile, according to Tannis Braithwaite, executive director of B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which acts for low-income residential utility customers.
Every three months, the B.C. Utilities Commission establishes the rate Fortis charges. As of Aug. 1, Fortis is charging $2.48 per gigajoule for residential while the eight third-party providers licensed in B.C. charge anywhere from $3.99 to $6.39 per gigajoule on five-year terms.
“Fortis can only provide a variable rate, they’re restricted to that,” said Braithwaite. “So some people want to have a fixed rate because they want to know how much their gas is going to cost and the program actually started in a time when natural gas prices were increasing quite rapidly.
“And so the gas-marketer program allowed people to enter into contracts for between one year and five years, where they would know how much per gigajoule they were going to be paying for their gas.”
— FortisBC (@FortisBC) August 18, 2015
Third-party marketers must adhere to a code of conduct set by the utilities commission.
According to the conduct document, gas marketers are expected to immediately and truthfully identify themselves and provide proof of licensing and bonding. Sign-up fees are not allowed and marketers aren’t allowed to mislead or pressure the consumer.
Michael Allison, spokesman for Fortis, said the utility understands people have concerns and encourages people to note time, name of representative and company name. Fortis B.C. doesn’t sell gas door-to-door, he said.
“If someone does have an issue, they can certainly visit www.fortisbc.com/choice and there are instructions on there if they need to get in touch with us or have the B.C. Utilities Commission get involved,” said Allison.
The eight licensed gas marketers are Access Gas Services Inc., Altagas Ltd., Bluestream Energy, Direct Energy, Just Energy, Planet Energy, Summitt Energy B.C. LP and Superior Energy Management.