The N.C. Utilities Commission said that Aqua North Carolina and other water utilities have to tell customers how their bills will be affected by rate increases that the companies can put in effect without extensive public hearings.
The Utilities Commission also underscored that water utilities that raise rates between rate hearings may end up having those rate increases overturned.
The Utilities Commission ruled last month that Aqua can raise rates up to 5 percent between rate cases to upgrade pipes, valves, pumps and other infrastructure. Some customers complained the Commission was giving water utilities the power to raise rates without customers knowing about it.
Last week the Commission tightened its standards to address those concerns. The Commission’s order explained the risks that Aqua and others take when they unilaterally raise rates to fix their water systems through the accelerated cost-recovery mechanism.
“In other words, the adjustments will be provisional,” the Commission said, “and, thus, may be rescinded retroactively in the utility’s subsequent rate case.”
Cary-based Aqua, North Carolina’s biggest private water utility, has about 90,000 water and sewer customers in the state. The company serves outlying areas that don’t get municipal water service, including more than 400 subdivisions in Wake County, and typically charges about twice as much as a city or county water agency.