Originally created 05/07/02

Company holds off on natural gas



Thanks to recent legislation, Jefferson Energy Cooperative can now legally become a natural gas marketer - just don't expect it to any time soon.

Amendments passed last week to Georgia's natural gas deregulation allow electric membership corporations, known as EMCs, to act as natural gas marketers.

Many EMCs in the state embrace the new law, hoping to add gas to their existing bundled services. But Wrens-based Jefferson, which provides electric, Internet and security services to 11 rural counties surrounding Augusta, is holding off in part because of a failed alliance with Peachtree Natural Gas.

Peachtree was one of several companies to enter the deregulated natural gas market. The union with Jefferson dissolved in late 1998 when Peachtree's gas division went bankrupt.

At the time, Jefferson had about 1,200 natural gas customers.

"It left a bad taste in our mouth and it left a bad taste in our customers' mouths, but there's nothing we could do about it," Jefferson spokesman Mike Eady said. "We were a middle man."

Jefferson said it has no immediate plans to become a natural gas marketer, but company executives aren't ruling out the possibility.

"We haven't had an informal or formal discussion about it," Mr. Eady said. "There's been no move on our part to get back into it - but in the future, who knows?"

The legislative amendments allow EMCs to operate as natural gas marketers independent of other companies, meaning Jefferson would not have to form another alliance to market natural gas.

Any Jefferson-run natural gas venture would be kept wholly independent of the company's electric business in order to save electric customers from funding the gas company, Mr. Eady said.

Jefferson would also have to contend with separate certification processes with the state Public Service Commission.

Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or john.banks@augustachronicle.com.