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Water Utility Company Aqua America To Buy Peoples Natural Gas

Peoples Natural Gas
A rendering of the water filtration plant Peoples has proposed building along the Allegheny River in O'Hara Township.

Aqua America Inc., a Bryn Mawr, Pa. headquarted water utility company, has announced it will buy Peoples Gas and its subsidiaries in a $4.3 billion all-cash deal. 

According to a press release, the resulting company will serve one million water utility customer connections and more than 740,000 gas customer connections.

As part of the deal, Aqua will assume about $1.3 billion of Peoples' debt.

Aqua America CEO Chris Franklin said the company bought Peoples Gas in part because they were looking to expand into other utilities. It could also lead to an opportunity to dip its toes into providing water in Pittsburgh.

“To the extent that we could be a solution in Pittsburgh for what has been a very acute water issue, either the entire solution or part of it, we would welcome that and we would bring our expertise,” Franklin said.

He added that Aqua America doesn’t endorse a specific plan to fix Pittsburgh’s water woes at this time.

The news comes a little more than three months after Peoples announced its intentions to get into the water business in the Pittsburgh region. At the time, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority said it hadn’t been in discussion with Peoples about a potential partnership.

Aqua America said in July that it would also be interested in working with PWSA, which was reiterated by Franklin in his interview with WESA.

The combined Aqua and Peoples company will operate in 10 states, with about 77 percent of its base in Pennsylvania.

Peoples will continue to be led by its current CEO Morgan O'Brien.

"We are focused on strongly encouraging infrastructure replacement and expansion to better serve customers and fuel growth opportunities," O'Brien said in a press release.

Aly Shaw, organizer with the Our Water Campaign, said she is concerned about what the sale could mean for water conveyance in Pittsburgh.

“We know that private corporations will always prioritize profits over people,” she said, drawing a comparison to when Veolia Water North America managed the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. PWSA had filed suit against Veolia, saying the company failed to properly bill Pittsburgh customers and changed corrosion control chemicals without getting proper permission from the state. Critics say that move contributed to elevated lead levels in drinking water.

“It’s going to happen again if we let these industry giants like Aqua purchase our most valuable resource.”

Our Water Campaign is calling on Pittsburgh City Council to pass legislation to bar any sale of the PWSA.

Peoples Natural Gas and PWSA declined to comment for this story.

This is a developing story. 90.5 WESA will add updates as more information becomes available. 

Post updated on Wednesday, October 24, 2018 at 5:06 p.m.

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