Gas Natural Inc. shareholders have approved the company’s merger with a subsidiary of energy-focused private equity firm First Reserve, clearing the way for regulatory approval and keeping the deal on track to close in the second half of 2017.

Cleveland-based Gas Natural said 73% of its outstanding shares voted during a special meeting on Wednesday, with more than 98% approving the merger. First Reserve, which has long been an investor in the company, agreed to acquire it in an all-stock deal worth $196 million. Under the agreement, Gas Natural shareholders would receive $13.10/share.

The company is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Its subsidiaries serve nearly 69,000 utility customers in Maine, Montana, North Carolina and Ohio, where they distribute 21 Bcf of natural gas. Gas Natural contacted 78 potential buyers during the “go-shop” period and six considered bids, but no binding proposals were received. The company’s board of directors unanimously approved the merger earlier this year.

Gas Natural also has intrastate pipeline, production and marketing operations. The deal must now be approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, the Montana Public Service Commission, the North Carolina Utilities Commission and the Public Utility Commission of Ohio. It is one of the latest in a series of mergers and acquisitions in the power and utility sectors, where buyers have offered up billions of dollars to bring on more assets as the gas and electric markets continue to evolve.