Attorney General Appeals Provision To Let Aqua NC Raise Rates More Often

Attorney General Appeals Provision To Let Aqua NC Raise Rates More Often

By / State News / الأربعاء, 26 تشرين2/نوفمبر 2014 05:00

RALEIGH, N.C. : November 25th, 2014 - Allowing water utility Aqua North Carolina to raise rates without going through the full approval process is legally flawed and not in consumers’ best interest, Attorney General Roy Cooper said late Monday in a brief filed with the N.C. Supreme Court.
Aqua serves customers in New Hanover within a portion of the unincorporated area of the county.
“Decisions to raise rates on critical services like water and sewer deserve a thorough review, not a rubber stamp,” Cooper said. “Fast-tracking the process for utility rate hikes is not in the public’s interest.”
Cooper is contesting a decision made earlier this year by the North Carolina Utilities Commission granting Aqua an improvement charge mechanism.  The mechanism allows Aqua to raise its rates more frequently without going through the full process usually required for a utility rate hike which includes meaningful input from consumers and a full review by the Utilities Commission.
In its brief filed with the court, the Attorney General’s Office argues that for Aqua consumers, the change “is burdensome because it provides the virtual certainty of continued and more frequent rate increases – when Aqua’s rates are already very high and its consumers have already been hit with a number of rate increases during challenging economic times - without any certainty whatsoever that Aqua will improve its poor water quality.”
Cooper’s brief points out that the law as passed by the General Assembly requires the Utilities Commission to take into account how the new mechanism to accelerate approval for rate increases will affect the public interest.  He argues that the Utilities Commission did not adequately consider the public interest when it allowed Aqua to take advantage of this mechanism, and that findings by the Commission that the mechanism will prevent sharper rate increases over time and encourage Aqua to improve water quality are not based on sufficient evidence.
Under North Carolina law, regulated utilities typically have to seek Utilities Commission approval before increasing the rates customers pay.  That process includes public hearings where consumers, businesses and others who would be impacted by a rate hike can share their concerns with Commissioners. Consumers’ opportunity to provide such testimony in the future would be limited under the accelerated approval process granted to Aqua by the Utilities Commission.
During public hearings on Aqua’s most recent request, more than 50 customers testified, complaining about the company’s high rates, poor water quality, and poor customer service.  For example, one Charlotte resident said that he paid approximately $100 per month to Aqua for sewer and water service but poor water quality forced him to buy bottled water to drink.  Another Aqua customer who complained about discolored water and high levels of sediment says he got a belligerent response when he contacted the company to complain.
Aqua is the state’s largest private water utility, providing water and/or sewer services to 250,000 customers in 52 North Carolina counties.
The case is expected to be heard by the North Carolina Supreme Court sometime next year.
Source: North Carolina Department of Justice.


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