The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has directed Columbia Gas of Ohio to operate the bankrupt West Milgrove Gas Co., in the northwestern part of the state, until a new owner is found or its 120 customers secure alternative fuel sources such as propane for their homes.

West Milgrove filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy Feb. 13 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Ohio, Western Division. A trustee was appointed to run the company for 45 days. PUCO was unsuccessful in finding a buyer, and with time running out, ordered Columbia into the breech to make sure customers continued to receive gas.

“This is an extraordinary measure due to the uniqueness of a regulated utility facing closure due to bankruptcy,” said PUCO Chairman Alan Schriber. “Although customers may ultimately need to find an alternative fuel source, the PUCO staff will continue to explore all options to prevent service interruptions.”

So far no one has stepped forward to purchase the gas company, PUCO attorney Gretchen Petrucci said. It has 18 miles of pipe, a large amount for 120 customers, because it also connects to wells in the area. The company was caught in a price squeeze with very low fixed rates relative to the price of gas. It ran up a bill with its suppliers, including Columbia Gas Transmission. Rates were raised, but not enough to cover West Milgrove’s debts.

The commission has ordered Columbia Gas of Ohio to operate the facilities under the gas company’s current rates until further notice.

“We do not believe it is in the public interest for those approximately 120 customers to lose their gas service on such short notice, particularly without any ability to make alternative arrangements for an alternative source of energy,” the Ohio commission said. Columbia was nominated because it currently provides service in the area.

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