WVAW cites reasons behind proposed rate increase as commissioners blast idea

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia American Water Company (WVAW) cites the company investing millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades, declining state population and declining consumption of water as the reasons behind a proposed rate increase for water and wastewater needs. The company filed a request with the state Public Service Commission on Friday.

WVAW External Affairs Manager Megan Hannah told MetroNews on Monday that between February 2019, the last rate increase by the company, and February 2022, the scheduled increase if the request is approved, the company would have invested $252 million in infrastructure upgrades.

The upgrades include 48 miles of main replacement, improvements to pumping stations and improvements to water treatment process as the EPA and bureau for public health put out new regulations for water treatment. Hannah said that these are necessary upgrades to maintain water quality and service reliability.

“Any time we have to make a rate request, it’s at the cost of providing safe, reliable water service to our customers and making sure we have that continued investment back into our system,” she said on Monday.

The Kanawha County Commission blasted the proposed increase which, if approved, would result in an average $11.26 monthly bill increase for residential customers using 3,100 gallons per month.

Commissioner Lance Wheeler told MetroNews this is not the time for an increase.

“We have an economy that is still recovering from the pandemic of COVID-19, which is a pandemic that is still occurring. We have West Virginia American Water that is going to increase the price on their water bill every month for close to $12 per month. That’s money that the residents of Kanawha County do not have,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler said the commission will discuss the proposed increase and potential further actions in a meeting Thursday at 5:00 p.m. All three commissioners put out strong statements against the increase on Friday evening. Wheeling anticipates that there could be action to intervene and protest.

“I believe that we are here to protect the pockets of the citizens of Kanawha County and giving them a voice. I believe if you asked most citizens if they are going to be willing to increase their water bills, they are going to tell you no,” Wheeler said.

Kanawha County Commission reacts to West Virginia American Water rate hike request pic.twitter.com/9nRIRVjE0L

— Kanawha County (@kanawhaus) April 30, 2021

If the state Public Service Commission approves the increase, the new rates would go into effect next February 25, 2022 at the earliest, Hannah said.

Wheeler said now is the time to act, even if the pandemic may be over by then. He said there is too much uncertainty about the future.

“Having this little delay may seem nice but we’re going to attack it today and make sure we do everything for the citizens and giving them a voice. That’s what they deserve from their Kanawha County commissioners,” Wheeler said.

Hannah told MetroNews the company is sensitive to the fact the country is in the middle of the pandemic but is hopeful the pandemic ‘is behind us’ by February 2022. WVAW placed a moratorium on service shutoffs during the coronavirus pandemic for residents and businesses unable to make payments.

In a statement released on Friday, Robert Burton, president of WVAW said “We understand the current environment caused by the pandemic, but we also remain focused on meeting the future needs of our customers through sound infrastructure and public health protection. I want to emphasize that this request is not driven by the pandemic and is based on our need to continue ongoing infrastructure improvements. We will work with the Commission to address any issues they raise while they review our request.”

The average monthly residential sewer bill would increase from $54.14 to $71.84.

“The public service commission will undergo an extensive 10-month review of our request and they can either approve, all, some or none of that request. Any request they do order would not go into effect until February 25, 2022,” Hannah said.

She said the company’s wastewater service is in Fayette County only and serving 1,100 customers in Fayetteville and Winona.

The company’s request includes revenue increases totaling $40.8 million or 26.1 percent over the company’s current rates, a release stated. Factoring in the company’s current Distribution System Improvement Charge on customer bills, the actual increase customers would experience totals $30.9 million in annual revenue or 19.7 percent over current rates.