COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Tuesday ordered the ouster of the board of directors of Columbia Gas of Ohio, saying the current officers have 'stalled and delayed' on orders to purchase lower-cost natural gas.
PUCO Chairman Thomas Chema said Columbia, a subsidiary of Columbia Gas System of Wilmington, Del., purchased more than 95 percent of the gas it sold between June 1983 and May 1984 from Columbia Gas Transmission Co. and other Columbia affiliates -- at a significantly higher cost than other suppliers were charging.
Chema said there will be no action requiring the company to repay customers because the commission was not able to determine what customers would have paid.
'Our view is that Columbia Gas has been too greatly influence by sister and parent companies and they should be weaned away from these affiliates,' Chema said.
In a precedent-setting move, the commission exerted its authority to reshape a utility's board of directors and gave the company until Nov. 8 to to file a plan for reorganizing its board.
The commission wants the board to include more Ohioans and more members who are not employees of Columbia Gas System.
Columbia spokeswoman Genevieve Tuchow defended the makeup of the board, saying three of the 10 members, Sherwood Fawcett, Frank Durgo and George MacNicholl, are not affiliated with the company and at least two members are residents of Ohio.
Tuchow added that Columbia Gas, which serves 1 million customers in 57 of Ohio's 88 counties, has 'consistently followed a policy of purchasing the least-cost gas available to us while maintaining our obligation to provide reliable gas supplies to our customers at all times.'
However, the commission charged that Columbia failed to act on the results of a 1983 managment audit by Touche Ross & Co., which recommended seeking alternate sources of supply.
'The record adequately demonstrates that Columbia has stalled and delayed on the implementation of this recommendation,' Chema said. 'We believe the company's actions in this respect are imprudent and we will not allow the excuses to continue.'
In addition to the board reorganization, the commission ordered Columbia to construct facilities that would allow it to expand into cheaper markets of non-affiliated suppliers. Chema said that has been the practice of other gas companies in the state which offer cheaper rates.