New AGA Chairman Not Lacking For Issues

By Jeff Share, Editor | April 2009 Vol. 236 No. 4

Thomas E. Skains

It stands to reason that Thomas E. Skains literally needs to be two people this year. First, he is chairman, president and CEO of Piedmont Natural Gas, a large successfully managed utility based in Charlotte, NC that serves more than a million customers in the Carolinas and Tennessee. This year, he’s taken on the added role of chairman of the American Gas Association.

As the nominal leader of the natural gas distribution sector, he is responsible for pushing the agenda of the AGA’s nearly 200 member companies forward at a time when the collapse of the economy and the energy commodity markets leaves many questions in the air with few certain answers. This is especially true in dealing with a new administration that on the one hand professes its love of natural gas, on the other wants to diminish the need for oil and gas drilling.

Skains was elected chairman by Piedmont's Board of Directors in December 2003, CEO in February 2003 and President and Chief Operating Officer in February 2002. Previously, he was Senior Vice President - Marketing and Supply Services and directed Piedmont's commercial natural gas activities after joining the company in April 1995. Prior to joining Piedmont, Skains was an executive for Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corp. where he began work in 1981 as an attorney. He has a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Sam Houston State University and a Doctorate of Jurisprudence degree from the University of Houston Law School.

P&GJ: What are your major priorities for 2009 as AGA chairman?

Skains: Let me begin with the theme I have chosen for my chairmanship of the AGA: “Natural Gas: America’s Responsible Energy Choice.” At the very heart of this theme is the fundamental truth that we deliver a clean, efficient, abundant and largely domestic fuel to our customers. Natural gas is uniquely positioned to play a vital role in our nation’s energy future by providing both near-term and long-term solutions to America’s energy and environmental goals. For customers, for the economy and for our energy security, natural gas is truly the responsible energy choice.

As far as our priorities for 2009, my first priority is promoting the direct use of natural gas in homes and businesses as its best and most efficient use. Increased direct use of natural gas will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption and overall energy costs.

My second priority is ensuring that we gain greater access to our abundant domestic natural gas supplies. We have domestic supplies of natural gas that have been off limits for decades and that can be explored and developed in an environmentally safe and responsible manner. The best way to keep natural gas affordable is to match its increased demand with increased supply.

Another key priority of mine is to work with AGA to enhance and expand our nation’s pipeline and storage infrastructure. Increasing the direct use of natural gas will necessitate that we also increase our delivery infrastructure to meet that demand, while ensuring that our delivery system remains the safest, most efficient and most reliable in the world.

Two other priorities for this year that I think are particularly important involve extending or making permanent the current 15% maximum tax rate on dividend income and working with regulators at all levels on rate-design reform and rate stabilization that align the interests of energy utilities with their customers.