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Subject 515-7-6 NATURAL GAS MARKETER BILLING PRACTICES

Rule 515-7-6-.01 Definitions

As used in this Utility Rule 515-7-6, the following terms shall have the following definitions:

(a) "Base charge" means those Commission approved charges levied by an EDC to a marketer for each of the marketer's retail customers. This charge includes, but is not limited to: intrastate delivery (DDDC), EDC meter reading, base customer charge, peaking charges, and Commission approved riders. This charge does not include interstate capacity charges, consumption charges or marketer customer services charges.
(b) "Commission" means the Georgia Public Service Commission.
(c) "Competitive retail natural gas service charges" means the consumption charge, the interstate capacity charge and the customer service charge.
(d) "Consumer" means a firm retail customer of commodity service or of firm distribution service who uses such service or services primarily for personal, family or household purposes.
(e) "Consumer preferred method of communication" shall mean the method of written communication agreed upon by the marketer and the consumer regarding the method of notification the consumer shall receive in compliance with Commission rules. Such preferred method of communication may include but need not be limited to: first class mail, bill message, email, text or other electronic means supported by the marketer.
(f) "Customer," for the purpose of this rule, shall have the same meaning as the term "consumer."
(g) "Customer service" means a function related to serving a retail customer including without limitation billing, meter reading, turn-on service, and turn-off service.
(h) "Customer service charges" means any fee or fees charged by a marketer to a consumer less the amount of the base charge and excluding marketer charges for consumption, interstate capacity, and taxes.
(i) "Cramming" means billing for goods or services not requested or authorized by the consumer.
(j) "EDC information" means all the information needed by a marketer to process a correct bill. This term includes but is not limited to: meter reading, switch information, and EDC billing charge information.
(k) "Electing Distribution Company" or "EDC" means a gas company that elects to become subject to the provisions of the Natural Gas Competition and Deregulation Act and satisfies the requirements of O.C.G.A. § 46-4-154.
(l) "Firm" means a type of distribution service that ordinarily is not subject to interruption or curtailment.
(m) "Marketer" means any person certificated by the Commission to provide commodity sales service or distribution service pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 46-4-153 or ancillary services incident thereto.
(n) "Published price" means the charge assessed by a marketer for a therm of natural gas, and, if applicable, any separate or additional marketer charges for interstate capacity and customer service that are on file with the Georgia Public Service Commission.
(o) "Retail Customer" means a person who purchases commodity sales service or distribution service and such purchase is not for the purpose of resale, and for the purposes of this rule shall be synonymous with "customer".

Rule 515-7-6-.02 Service Quality Standards for Billing

(a) Marketers shall comply with the following service quality standards for billing firm retail customers, unless a signed contract predating the effective date of this rule specifically states other arrangements:
(1) A bill shall be mailed (or posted electronically) by a marketer (or its designated billing agent) to a retail customer within thirty (30) days of the date following the actual monthly meter reading or date of the estimated reading, if applicable. The consumer shall have at least twenty (20) days from the date the bill is mailed (or posted electronically) to pay the bill before it is past due.
(2) A bill shall be substantially correct as it applies to the EDC information available to the marketer at the time of bill preparation for the period in question as well as for the fixed or variable rate and all other charges that the retail customer has consented to pay.
(3) Marketers shall utilize the results of actual meter reads and are prohibited from sending estimated bills to natural gas consumers; provided, however, that when information from actual meter readings is not made available by the EDC or any other party authorized to perform meter reading, marketers may send an estimated bill for not more than two consecutive months. In the event the marketer sends a customer a bill based on estimates of the amounts owed pending receipt by the marketer of additional EDC information, the bill shall be clearly and conspicuously marked as an "estimate."
(4) A bill shall include clear and unambiguous statements that readily identify:
a. The consumer's name, billing address, service address and EDC account number;
b. The dates of service reflecting the period of time for which the bill is being assessed (the meter reading period);
c. The number of therms consumed during the meter reading period and the price per therm;
d. An itemization of each type of competitive natural gas service included in the bill, any related billing components and charges for each type of natural gas service as well as any other information the consumer would need to recalculate the bill for accuracy, which shall include, but not be limited to:
1. The deposit amount, if applicable;
2. Any switching, connection, or reconnection charges;
3. Any additional charge assessed by the marketer regarding a particular payment method;
4. Any true-up amount now due to the marketer as a result of a budget plan being terminated;
5. Any cancellation or early termination charges;
6. The exact amount of the base charge that is being charged by the EDC for that particular retail customer, which shall be identified as the EDC charge; and
7. All applicable state and local taxes.
e. The applicable billing determinants, including the beginning meter reading; the ending meter reading; the standard multiplier (British Thermal Unit factors and the consumer's dedicated design day capacity factor), as well as any other different multipliers used; and any other consumption adjustments;
f. The amount billed for the current period, any unpaid amounts due from previous periods, any payments or credits applied to the consumer's account during the current period, any late payment charges or gross and net charges, if applicable, and the total amount due and payable.
g. The type of rate plan, fixed or variable, applicable to the consumer's account.
h. The due date for payment to keep the account current;
i. The current balance of the account, if the natural gas consumer is billed according to a budget plan;
j. The amount due resulting from any pay arrangement;
k. Options and instructions on how the natural gas consumer can make a payment;
l. A toll-free or local telephone number and address, and email address for consumer billing questions or complaints for any retail natural gas company whose charges appear on the bill;
m. The applicable EDC's 24 hour local or toll-free telephone number for reporting service emergencies;
n. An explanation of any codes and abbreviations used; and
o. A description of the charges or credits contained in the bill.
(5) The competitive retail natural gas service charges billed to a consumer shall not exceed the marketer's published price in effect at the beginning of the consumer's billing cycle, except that for fixed rate plan customers, the published price in effect at the beginning of each billing cycle shall be the published price in effect at the time the customer signed up for the plan.
(6) No marketer shall engage in the practice of cramming when billing its natural gas customers.
(7) In the event the bill is for more than one meter read period, the base charge, the customer service charge, and, if the marketer has the meter reading information necessary to do so, the consumption charge and interstate capacity charge shall be disaggregated by meter read period.
(8) No marketer shall increase a firm retail customer's competitive retail natural gas service charge or assess new or additional charges to a customer during the term of a fixed-rate plan.
(9) No marketer shall assess new or additional customer service charges or other charges or fees to a customer under a variable-rate plan, without providing the customer advance written notice by mail or by the consumer preferred method of communication, of those changes or additions at least 25 days prior to implementation of the charge or fee. For consumption and interstate capacity charges assessed under a variable-rate plan, the marketer shall inform the customer of any modification in the methodology for computing such charges at least 25 days prior to implementation of the methodology. No marketer shall charge a customer a higher rate as a result of such new methodology unless such notice has been given. Notice of such new or additional charges or methodology modifications shall be written in clear and conspicuous language and shall inform the consumer of the right to cancel service without penalty by calling, writing or electronically contacting the marketer within three days from receipt of the notice.
(10) In a situation in which it is appropriate for a late fee or other penalty to be applied to a customer's account, the fee or penalty imposed by the marketer shall be reasonable and shall not exceed $10.00 or 1.5% of the past due balance, whichever is greater. A marketer shall not apply a late fee to a customer's account if the past due balance is less than $30.00.
(11) In a situation in which it is appropriate to apply a credit to the customer's account or issue the customer a refund, the credit or refund shall be applied or issued within 60 days after the overpayment has been acknowledged or admitted to by the marketer.
(12) Notwithstanding any other provision set forth in this rule, a bill shall not be deemed to be in non-compliance of Commission Rule 515-7-6-.02(a)(1)to(4) if said non-compliance is a product of a force majeure or of an act of an independent third-party.
(b) Marketers shall provide notification using the consumer preferred method of communication or include in a customer's bill information referencing the Commission's web site address (www.psc.state.ga.us) where the consumer may obtain pricing information relative to gas marketers.

Rule 515-7-6-.03 Enforcement of Billing Service Quality Standards

(a) In addition to any other remedies or actions that may be taken, marketers that fail to comply with this Commission Rule shall be subject to the following actions by the Commission:
(1) If the Commission finds, after notice and opportunity for a hearing, that a marketer has failed repeatedly or has failed willfully to comply with the billing service quality standards, the Commission may:
a. revoke the marketer's certificate;
b. suspend the marketer's certificate; and
c. adjust or place limitations on the marketer's certificate, including, but not limited to, prohibiting a marketer from accepting new customers until the marketer demonstrates that it has resolved any billing deficiencies found by the Commission.
(2) If the Commission finds, after notice and opportunity for a hearing, that a marketer has willfully violated the billing service quality standards, the marketer shall be liable for a penalty not to exceed $15,000 for such violation and an additional penalty not to exceed $10,000 for each day during which such violation continues.

Rule 515-7-6-.04 Consumer Rights and Remedies

(a) In the event that a customer is not billed in compliance with Commission Rule 515-7-6-.02(a), the marketer shall allow the customer a reasonable period of time to pay the charges that were not timely billed. Such reasonable period of time shall not be less than the period of time following the actual monthly meter reading or date of the estimated reading, if applicable, and the date the bill was sent to the customer. During this period of time, the marketer shall not charge or accrue any interest or late charges or penalties, shall not undertake collection efforts, shall not report the consumer to a credit reporting agency, and shall not disconnect gas service to the customer based on such amount. At the customer's request, the marketer shall allow the customer the option to pay the amount due in equal monthly increments.
(b) Unless a longer period of time is required under Commission Rule 515-7-6-.04(a), customers who receive bills that undercharge or fail to charge for legitimate services shall be given at least 90 days from the date a correct bill is rendered to pay the correct amount and no late charges or interest may be charged on the corrected amount during said 90-day payment period. During this period of time, the marketer shall not charge or accrue any interest or late charges or penalties, shall not undertake collection efforts, shall not report the consumer to a credit reporting agency, and shall not disconnect gas service to the customer based on the corrected amount.
(c) In the event a marketer fails to comply with Commission Rule Chapter 515-7-6, such marketer shall promptly and in good faith resolve any customer complaints resulting from such non-compliance.
(d) In any case where there is a dispute between a marketer and a retail customer concerning the amount of a gas bill, the marketer shall be required to confer by telephone or some other verifiable means with the retail customer in an attempt to resolve such dispute. In case of any such dispute the marketer shall be prohibited from reporting the name of a retail customer to any consumer reporting agency as defined in Section 603(f) of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act until the marketer has conferred with the retail customer and has complied in all respects with all applicable provisions of this article and the rules and regulations of the commission or has obtained a judgment against the retail customer.
(e) Whenever a marketer discovers or has called to its attention a billing error or other mistake reported to or acknowledged by the marketer, the marketer shall have thirty (30) days to correct the billing error from the date said error is reported to or acknowledged by the marketer. If the marketer does not correct the billing error, the burden of proof shall be on the marketer to show why the bill is correct. During the period the billing error is being disputed, the marketer shall neither impose a late fee or penalty on the disputed amount nor initiate an action to disconnect the customer's service or collect on the past due balance, if the disputed amount constitutes the total amount of the past due balance.
(f)
(1) In a situation in which a consumer has received a bill alleged to be in violation of one or more provisions of this Commission Rule, the consumer shall notify the marketer in an effort to rectify the situation without the need for agency Commission intervention. A marketer shall use every reasonable means to resolve a customer complaint regarding a billing issue in order to prevent it from being brought to the Commission.
(2) If a consumer is unable to arrive at a solution with a marketer regarding a billing dispute, the consumer has the right to file a complaint with the Commission. Should a billing issue be the subject of a Commission hearing at which it is found that the marketer was in violation of one or more of the Commission's billing rules and failed to use reasonable efforts to resolve the dispute, the Commission shall issue an order directing the marketer to provide the consumer with the appropriate refund, credit or remedy pursuant to this Commission Rule and pay the consumer $100, plus either $5 per day, accruing from the date the Commission notified the marketer it was investigating the dispute, that the consumer's billing situation was not rectified or an amount determined by Order of the Commission. At such a hearing, the marketer shall have the burden of proof to show that it was in compliance with this Commission Rule. In addition to the foregoing sanctions, the Commission also may order a marketer to pay all expenses incurred by the Commission as a result of having a hearing, including, but not limited to, court reporter transcription charges; hearing officer fees; and an amount of money equal to that which the Commission expended in Staff time in investigating, hearing and adjudicating the complaint; and pay as contemplated in O.C.G.A. 46-2-91 any and all penalties determined by the Commission to be appropriate in light of the circumstances presented.

Rule 515-7-6-.05 Billing and Billing Dispute Record Retention

If a marketer records verbal communications or receives written or electronic communications regarding billing disputes with either its customers, the EDC or Commission Staff, the marketer shall retain copies of these communications for at least twelve months.