Carper repeats call for PSC to issue moratoriums on rate increase requests from utilities

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper told the state Public Service Commission Thursday it should consider the possible use of pandemic relief funding when it makes its decision on a double-digit rate increase request from West Virginia American Water Company.

Kent Carper

Carper testified on the second day of the evidentiary hearing being held by the PSC. West Virginia American, the state’s largest water utility, filed for a 26.1% rate increase to pay for hundreds of millions of dollars of improvements to the system. The average customer’s bill would go up $9.56 a month.

Answering a question from PSC Chair Charlotte Lane, Carper predicted West Virginia American would seek federal pandemic relief funding from the county for some projects.

“They will be very soon to our door, knocking on our door, asking for millions for dollars for private-public partnerships and the commission should consider that,” Carper said.

A spokesperson for the company later told MetroNews West Virginia American has no plans to go to the commission.

“As currently structured, West Virginia American Water is not eligible for any of the federal funding related to pandemic relief,” Megan Hannah, West Virginia American Water External Affairs Manager said.

Carper also urged the PSC to consider the $40 million rate increase in the context of rates going up for cable, natural gas and electricity.

“If they get this rate increase the water bills would have more than doubled since 2005,” Carper said.

Carper called for at least a three-to-four-year moratorium between rate cases. He said anything less would be ineffective.

“They just shouldn’t be allowed to come back every two to three years and ask for more money time after time after time,” Carper told the PSC.

Level the playing field

A hired consultant for the West Virginia Consumer Advocate Division also testified Thursday. Ralph Smith said things have gotten out of hand in recent years in West Virginia when it comes to rate cases.

“West Virginia used to have a reputation of being relatively tough on utilities but now it looks like they’re even going beyond the state of Ohio,” Smith said.

The PSC now allows utilities an annual surcharge to pay for new projects. Those are approved between the base rate cases that come every few years, Smith said.

“We’re just asking the commission to go back and try to rebalance the regulatory process here in West Virginia to be more balanced and to consider impacts on ratepayers as well as the company’s shareholders,” Smith said.

Changes to original filing

There have already been a few significant changes to the original rate case filed by West Virginia American Water.

The company, Consumer Advocate Division, the PSC staff and other parties have agreed to settle the part of the case based on depreciation rates of property and equipment. That settlement, which still must receive PSC approval, will decrease the original ‘asked for’ amount.

According to the company, the increase to the average customer’s monthly bill will land somewhere below the original $9.56 but it’s no sure where.

The PSC will make a decision on the case in February.

West Virginia American Water has 167,000 customers in all or parts of 19 West Virginia counties.

The company is also seeking a 31% increase in sewer rates paid by 1,100 customers in Fayette County.

West Virginia American Water last filed a rate case in 2018. the PSC approved a 14% rate increase for water customers and a 17% rate increase for wastewater customers. Bills went up $6.69 a month for water customers with average bills. Bills were increased beginning in February 2019.

Public hearing added

The PSC announced Thursday it will hold another public hearing in connection with the water case.

It’s set for Dec. 1 in Bluefield.

It will begin at 4:00 p.m. in the Municipal Board Room, Bluefield City Hall.

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