News Feature | June 29, 2014

North Carolina Regulators Crack Down On Water Utilities

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

budgetreg

North Carolina regulators recently tightened regulations on water utilities in an effort to promote transparency for consumers and prevent massive rate hikes without government consent. 

"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 News & Observer reported

"The Utilities Commission also underscored that water utilities that raise rates between rate hearings may end up having those rate increases overturned," the report said. 

The decision comes in response to customer push-back to a previous ruling. 

"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," the report said. "Last week, the Commission tightened its standards to address those concerns."

According to Indy Week, "Aqua NC owns 800 water and/or sewer systems and serves 90,000 households, making it the largest private water and sewer utility in the state."

After a May rate increase, the weekly listed a raft of complaints about Aqua NC. "There's the fact that Aqua NC customers are paying among the highest utility rates in the state for what they say are sub-par services. And now they will pay more, since the N.C. Utilities Commission approved a 5.2 percent rate increase and a controversial provision that could further jack up customers' bills," it said. 

"Customers of the private water/sewer company Aqua North Carolina have concerns about the company’s prices, service, responsiveness, and other practices," according to Clean Water For North Carolina, a nonprofit. 

Aqua NC President Tom Roberts told the weekly that the company faces challenges from aging infrastructure. 

"We are committed to fixing these issues," he said. "Some systems here are 40 or 50 years old and we look to resolve them with a reasonable pace and we look forward to working with the Public Staff and the North Carolina Utilities Commission to move forward on some water quality issues."

Check out Water Online's Regulations & Legislation Solution Center.

Image credit: "Calculator and Dollar Bill," Images_of_Money © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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