Aqua gets approval for small rate increases

State regulators approved a small rate increase this week for Aqua North Carolina in the first-ever application of a new state policy that allows water and sewer rate hikes without full public hearings.

The N.C. Utilities Commission approved a 0.14 percent increase for Aqua’s water service and a 0.32 percent increase for sewer service. Aqua’s Cary-based North Carolina division had requested more: 0.21 percent and 0.44 percent, respectively.

Aqua has about 90,000 water and sewer customers in the state, including more than 400 subdivisions in Wake County. The publicly traded company, whose corporate parent is based in Pennsylvania, already charges about twice as much as municipal water systems in Raleigh, Durham, Cary and other cities.

North Carolina’s largest private waterworks, Aqua had also asked for a 0.84 percent increase in the Fayetteville area; the Utilities Commission approved 0.41 percent.

In approving the rate increases Monday, the Utilities Commission adopted the recommendation of the Public Staff, the state agency that represents utility customers in rate cases.

Under a Utilities Commission rule adopted in May, water utilities can raise rates up to 5 percent for certain infrastructure improvements without holding public hearings. After the utilities go through a full rate case, which would include public hearings, they can go through another cycle of rate increases up to 5 percent without public hearings.

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper last month filed an appeal over the new rate policy with the N.C. Supreme Court. The attorney general says the Utilities Commission, when approving the rate policy, failed to adequately consider its economic effect on Aqua’s customers, who have consistently opposed the company’s rate increases.