The AARP and the town of Simsbury are among the latest groups to voice their opposition to the rate increase proposed by the Aquarion Water Company.
The AARP submitted its comments in writing to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority earlier this month.
PURA is currently holding public hearings on Aquarion’s applications before its commissioners begin evidentiary hearings later in the year. The proposed rate increase would be 13.9% in the first year, an additional 6% in year two, and 3.7% in year three.
In the statement, written by Advocacy Director John Erlingheuser, AARP argues that its membership – totalling nearly 600,000 members in Connecticut, simply can’t afford the increase as they are already facing soaring energy costs as well as high inflation on nearly all consumer goods.
“The impact would be felt throughout many Connecticut communities. Aquarion serves approximately 207,000 customers (representing a population of approximately 685,000) in 56 municipalities in 7 of the state’s 8 counties,” according to the statement. “Making water unaffordable while many older adults are already struggling to pay for everyday essentials is unconscionable.”
Further, AARP is also concerned about the impact the rate increase would have on households with moderate and fixed incomes that do not qualify for financial assistance programs. AARP also requests that PURA examine any mergers by Aquarion to make sure any net merger-related savings can be passed on to households.
An estimated $740 million in capital investments is the reason Aquarion Water Company has requested that it be allowed to increase its rates, according to company representatives.
In addition, according to Acquarion spokesman Peter Fazekas, the company is not seeking rate increases in years 2 and 3 in this filing, but is asking that it be able to make filings in those years to recover investments actually made in the water system. “These filings would be subject to their own distinct proceedings at which time the rate impact would be determined,” Fazekas wrote in an emailed statement.
Fazekas also said that Aquarion has also proposed expanding its customer assistance program, offering a 15% bill discount for eligible, low-income customers, in addition to the company’s current voucher program and payment plan program.
When Aquarion purchased the Village Water Company of Simsury in May 2020, according to the written submission to PURA by Simsbury’s Board of Selectmen in September, its residents were assured that rates would be kept low “due to the larger and more efficient operational capabilities of Aquarion.”
“The proposed rate increases are not consistent with the commitments made by Aquarion in May of 2000,” the letter reads. In addition, Simsbury residents have high mineral content in their water.
“Due to the marginal water quality, our residents and business have to replace plumbing fixtures and pumps much more frequently than is typical. We believe this should be considered in the fee structure for Simsbury,” the letter states.
Aquarion responded that its proposed rate increase varies by division. “If the proposed rate adjustment is approved without modification and using the Company’s Northern Division as an example, in Rate Year 1, a typical Simsbury residential customer using 72,000 gallons per year would experience a monthly increase of $9.93,” Fazekas wrote.
PURA will compile comments submitted by the public through Mon Oct. 25, either through public hearings or in writing by submitting comments via email at PURA.ExecutiveSecretary@ct.gov or by mailing them into PURA at Ten Franklin Square, New Britain, CT 06051.
The last public hearing on Aquarion’s application, PURA docket (Docket No. 22-07-01), is at 7 p.m. Tues., Oct. 25 via Zoom.