By Stephen Smoot
Last week the West Virginia Public Service Commission shared that “an agreement has been negotiated to allow for the acquisition of a smaller central West Virginia gas utility and its merger into Hope Gas, Inc.
Although the name Hope Gas has been familiar to customers in much of West Virginia since approximately 1900, the name was most recently affixed to the business entity created when Ullico/Hearthstone Utilities, Inc acquired Dominion Energy West Virginia. The CEO of the new Hope Gas, Morgan O’Brien, also served as the head of Peoples Gas for nine years, according to a 2022 report in the Wetzel Chronicle.
As the PSC stated in a release, the two companies approached the PSC in February regarding the potential merger, with a listed purchase price of $37 million.
The merger will bring added costs for Peoples Gas customers. Currently, base rates for Peoples customers are beneath those of Hope Gas. Hope Gas will apply for a rate increase. Former Peoples customers, after final PSC approval, will immediately see an $8.30 monthly surcharge for “pipeline replacement and expansion.” All current Hope customers already pay the surcharge.
According to Hope Gas, though its existing pipeline network is safe, “over the lifespan of the program, we will upgrade the pipe from a bare steel, cast iron, wrought iron and copper pipe to either effectively coated steel or plastic pipe. This will typically affect the mainline, which is usually in the street, and various service lines, which run from the mainline to the gas meter.”
This is the seventh year of the project, expected to replace approximately 1,000 miles of Hope’s 3,246 mile system.
Hope Gas is also part of the ARCH2 group of companies, many involved in natural gas, working to create hydrogen fuel hubs in the state. The acronym comes from Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub. The project seeks to create a net zero emission process to use natural gas to produce hydrogen fuel.
Studies in the Potomac Highlands and elsewhere in West Virginia have demonstrated the unsuitability of heavy electric vehicles (EVs), especially heavier ones, in the Mountain State’s temperature extremes and highlands driving. This led to the federal government’s support of developing multiple hydrogen fuel projects in West Virginia.
Hope Gas has pledged to keep Peoples’ 23 West Virginia based employees. Peoples Gas serves more than 12,000 customers in 15 counties with the bulk of them concentrated in Harrison, Taylor, and Marion counties.
According to the PSC, “the commission must still make the final decision on whether to accept the proposal.”