Business, Energy, State Government

Hope Gas asks for PSC ruling on possibly illegal plan for another company to build pipeline to one of its customers

MORGANTOWN — Hope Gas believes one of its industrial customers and another pipeline company are skirting the law with their plan to usurp Hope’s service with a new pipeline connection and has asked the Public Service Commission to intervene and require them to conform with state regulations.

Hope filed its petition with the PSC this week. It tells the PSC that it has provided gas service to the customer for many years. The plant was recently sold but remains a Hope customer. (Hope says in a footnote that it has a confidentiality agreement with the plant and out of an abundance of caution it is not naming the plant or the pipeline company.)

Hope has learned that the plant and the pipeline company are in advanced discussions about the company building a pipeline to the plant in order to implement an unregulated bypass around Hope and its service to the plant.

Hope cites state law, passed in 2020, that allows a person or facility that has not previously been a natural gas utility customer, subject to certain criteria, to receive gas service from any company without PSC review or permission. (This does not exempt the company from the usual permitting and construction requirements.)

Hope refers to the law as the unregulated bypass statute and notes that the law requires the parties to provide notice of intent to the utility providing gas service in the area.

Hope said the plan fails to meet the requirement of the statute. For one, the plant is Hope’s longtime customer. And two, except for being informed orally about the plan, Hope has not received the required formal notice. Therefore, the plan “would be entirely unlawful.”

Hope tells that PSC that at best, the parties are misinterpreting the law; at worst, they’re planning a project not authorized by law.

“Perhaps needless to say, lawful bypasses of Hope cause Hope to lose customers and harm the remaining customers on the Hope system as they ultimately end up paying higher rates as the result of a departure of customers from the system,” Hope tells the PSC.

“As the commission surely understands, unlawful bypasses have even greater negative impact on Hope and its customers, and, accordingly, this petition seeks to protect Hope and its customers. If they are to be bypassed, at least Hope’s customers might take some comfort knowing that a bypass is legal and performed in accordance with state law and regulation.”

Hope is asking the PSC for a declaration that the plant is an existing Hope customer and the plan is not eligible for the exemption provided by the unregulated bypass statute, and that the parties must serve the required notice before they either try to make use of the statute or begin permitting and construction.