A natural gas line serving 26 customers in Washington County won't be shut off unless the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio grants its seal of approval.
The line, owned by Eureka Hunter Pipeline, had been scheduled to be shut down Nov. 1, but an order from a PUCO attorney examiner scheduling an Oct. 24 conference between the company and the affected property owners includes a provision that "Eureka Hunter should not disconnect natural gas service to the 26 customers during the pendency of this proceeding or until the Commission orders otherwise."
Eureka Hunter acquired the pipeline when it purchased Reno-based Triad Energy in 2010. According to the PUCO document, the company "maintains that its sole purpose in the acquisition of Triad Energy was to utilize any existing right-of-ways for gathering lines, but notes that the Beverly Bell Pipeline has provided natural gas to 26 customers for over 20 years."
The company maintains that the line requires "significant capital expenditures to ensure safe and reliable service," and that maintaining the service would not be safe, reliable or economically feasible, the document says.
Attempts to get other companies to take on the service have so far been unsuccessful, and some of the residents say hooking up to another provider or transitioning to electric or propane heat is too expensive.
"I don't know if 'pleased' is the right word," said Stanleyville resident Chuck Nonnenmacher, a customer of the line, when asked what he thought about the PUCO's order. "At least we have the comfort of knowing they can't shut us off."
Nonnenmacher said one estimate he received to hook his house up to the Dominion system was for $130,000.
Eureka Hunter applied to the PUCO for permission to abandon the line. Dan McCormick, senior vice president of the company, said they are working with some of the affected customers to transition to other services but a handful have "no initiative" to do so.
"We can't compel people to transfer to a different energy service," he said. "They won't do anything until the lights go out."
The PUCO document notes Eureka Hunter's offer of assistance to the customers, but says the company has not notified the commission of the status of the transitions. Because of that, the attorney examiner ordered a prehearing conference at 10 a.m. Oct. 24 at the commission's office in Columbus.
The document asks that representatives from the company and customers be prepared to discuss arrangements including installing an alternative energy source or receiving natural gas from a different supplier and tentative hearing dates should no resolution be reached.
Muskingum Township resident John Biehl, 70, is another of the affected customers. He said Eureka Hunter has asked customers to turn in the costs they incur on the transition to them, but has not said how much they will pay.
"It's going to be a great expense to switch over to something that aligns with gas," Biehl said. "Our costs are going to double with propane."
Biehl said he's been exploring alternative heating systems but he's waiting until the meeting to decide how to proceed.
"We'll just see what they can do, how they can help, for both parties," he said.
Waterford resident Jeff Bauerbach, 54, said he's moving forward with a plan to add a line to his home and business to connect with Northeast Ohio Natural Gas service. He expects it to cost between $20,000 and $30,000.
"I'm just wanting to get it all put behind me is all," he said.
Bauerbach said he expects some assistance from Eureka Hunter.
"They haven't really put a dollar amount on it, but they said yes, they would help us with it," he said.
McCormick said the company could not discuss arrangements with individual property owners.