The state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority has rejected a three-year rate increase plan from Aquarion, which is based in Bridgeport and owned by Eversource, opting instead to lower the water company’s rates for customers, according to a draft decision released today.
The 152-page draft decision comes after the company’s July application to seek approval of its amended rates for the provision of water distribution service starting in March. The proposed rate increase was 13.9% in the first year, an additional 6% in year two, and 3.7% in year three. The proposed rate increase would have totaled $27.5 million in the first year, followed by $13.6 million in the second year and $8.8 million in the third year.
Joseph Cooper, a PURA spokesman, said the exact reduction for customers has not yet been calculated and would depend on the new rate design ordered in the final decision.
Aquarion has until Feb. 24 to respond to the decision. Oral arguments have been scheduled for March 3, with a final decision expected March 15.
While its representatives say they appreciate the transparent and open discussion, Aquarion responded to the draft decision by saying that if PURA maintains its rejection in the final decision, it will hamper the company’s ability to invest in infrastructure and services.
“Aquarion has made more than $740 million in investments in new infrastructure and services since the last rate case in 2013,” the statement reads. “These investments are the critical infrastructure that approximately 725,000 customers rely on for clean water supply. This draft decision raises significant questions and uncertainty as to our ability to continue these investments into the future.”
Attorney General William Tong, who has opposed Aquarion’s request to increase the rates, which would have increased water rates for 236,000 customers across 72 cities and towns, called the draft decision a victory for Connecticut’s consumers. Instead of an increase, PURA’s draft decision instead orders a rate decrease of 0.192% for Connecticut customers totaling $379,365, Tong added.
“When Aquarion first issued its plan, I knew Connecticut consumers – especially those on fixed or limited incomes – simply couldn’t be asked to shoulder yet another costly hit to their finances, which is why I fought this proposal from the start,” Tong said in a prepared statement.
PURA received oral and written comments from 48 entities – including elected officials, organizations, and ratepayers. The American Association of Retired Persons Connecticut (AARP) filed a petition to oppose the rate increase, signed by 2,389 of its members.
“Opposition to Aquarion’s application for a rate increase was unanimous. None of the comments received advocated for increased rates, and most comments were critical of Aquarion’s proposal in full, with the limited exception being that, in some instances, commenters opposed the overall increase but supported one element of the proposal,” according to the draft decision. “For example, the Town of Simsbury opposed the rate increase but supported the tiered rate structure. AARP opposed the increase but supported the creation of a low-income rate. The Town of Greenwich opposed the rate increase because of its impact on customers, as well as the impact on municipal costs such as the rental of hydrants. In one instance, a commenter did find Aquarion’s response to the 2022 drought to be appropriate.”
In previous public hearings on the rate increase proposal, company representatives said Aquarion has faced inflationary pressures like everyone else, adding that the company has not raised its rates since 2013.
“While we understand the drive to affordability, it cannot come at the cost of lost investment that will ultimately harm customer interests,” Aquarion said through the prepared statement. “We will engage with PURA in the coming weeks as we look to find the right balance of affordability and access to clean, reliable water supply across our Connecticut systems.”