A Connecticut Superior Court judge put a temporary halt last week on a decision by state utility regulators to reduce the water rates of Aquarion customers in response to the company’s request to increase rates.
The temporary stay came from Judge Matthew Budzik of New Britain Superior Court, where Aquarion has appealed a March ruling by the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.
The company, which provides water services for 207,000 customers in 56 Connecticut towns, had sought approval to increase its revenue by around 25% over three years. Instead, regulators voted 2-1 to decrease the company’s revenue by around 1%. The decision was expected to save customers an average of $67 a year.
On Wednesday, Budzik granted the company’s request to pause the ordered rate reduction to “preserve the status quo” while the court weighed the case.
“[I]t is not clear that the court will have authority to grant compensatory relief to the plaintiff at the end of this case, and, therefore, the plaintiff will suffer irreparable harm if the underlying agency decision goes into immediate effect,” the judge wrote.
In a 468-page appeal filed last month, lawyers for the Eversource subsidiary Aquarion called the PURA decision “unreasonable.” They argued that the rejection of the Aquarion’s request to raise rates and the subsequent lowering of rates jeopardized the company’s ability to provide water services and attract investors.
“Within two days of issuance, investor analysts and credit-rating agencies weighed in on PURA’s Decision, affirming the negative impact on the Company’s financial integrity, its investment profile and the attendant ability to attract capital resources at competitive terms for the benefit of customers,” the appeal said.
PURA’s decision was praised last month by state lawmakers from both parties and the Connecticut AARP, which had argued that a rate hike on an essential service like water would prove unaffordable for older adults living on fixed incomes.
At the time, Attorney General William Tong issued a statement calling PURA’s ruling an “aggressive pro-consumer decision.”
“Connecticut families pay far too much for their utilities. This relief is well-timed and sorely needed,” Tong said.
It will now fall to the Office of the Attorney General to defend the decision against Aquarion’s complaint. Tong’s office did not immediately respond to a Tuesday request for comment on the temporary halt to the rate reductions. The judge has scheduled a remote hearing on the matter for April 25.
In a statement Tuesday, Aquarion Water Company spokesman Peter Fazekas said the court-ordered stay was the latest development in a rate process the company began last year. He had little else to say on the matter.
“Aquarion will prepare for the next step of the process and will present our case in court. We will have no further comment,” Fazekas said.
In a statement issued through a spokesperson, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority said it was aware that Aquarion had appealed of its decision.
“The Authority stands by the decision and is confident that the Office of the Attorney General will vigorously defend the decision and its immediate enforcement,” the PURA statement read. “Further, the additional public process will highlight the importance of a fully adjudicated rate case.”