Aquarion water rate lowered by regulators
Commissioners with the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, voted 2-1 Wednesday to approve a plan that would reduce Aquarion customers water rates by about $67 per year. PURA also denied a rate hike request that could have increased rates by 27 percent over three years.
The water company serves 207,000 customers in 56 communities, including Stonington, Groton, Mystic and Norwich.
Commissioner John Betkoski voted against the final ruling, calling it a decision that will discourage Aquarion from future investments in its distribution network.
"This decision represents a punitive and capricious anti-business decision," Betkoski said. "I have no doubt it will be appealed in Superior Court."
PURA Commissioner Michael Caron voted for the final decision, but said he was also concerned about the impact it would have on Aquarion's willingness to make future investments in its system. Caron said, however, that company officials failed to adequately make a case for what had been sought in the rate case.
"There was a lack of testimony from the company, proving the necessity of its request," he said.
PURA Chairwoman Marissa Gillett disagreed that the ruling would have an impact on future utility investment and cast the deciding vote in the final ruling.
"PURA's purpose is to hold utilities accountable and that is what this decision does," Gillett said.
A statement released following PURA final decision Tuesday by Aquarion spokesman Peter Fazekas said company officials were disappointed by the decision and will evaluate it in the coming days before determining their next move.
"From aging infrastructure and lead service lines, to per- and polyfluoroakyl substances in water threatening human health, the water industry faces serious challenges that can only be met through prudent sustained investment in our state's water infrastructure," the statement said in part. "Regrettably, PURA's decision is silent on how to address these challenges with reduced resources. Aquarion is committed to our mission of providing safe, high-quality drinking water to our customers at affordable rates; we are equally committed to delivering the modern water infrastructure essential to fulfilling that mission."
Fazekas said that the company's rate hike request would have increased the average Aquarion customer's water bills by $60 in the first year or $5 per month.
Connecticut Consumer Counsel Claire Coleman called the PURA ruling "a win for Aquarion customers and for all utility ratepayers across the state.“ Coleman's job is to represent the interests of consumers in utility rate cases.
"The burden of proof falls squarely on the shoulder of the utility seeking to increase its rates, and in this case, Aquarion came up short," she said.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong called PURA's actions an "aggressive pro-consumer decision." Tong had urged regulators in January to reject Aquarion's request.
"Connecticut families pay far too much for their utilities," Tong said in a statement. "This relief is well timed and sorely needed."
State Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, whose district also includes Bethel, Easton and Newtown, said PURA's ruling shows "ratepayers' voices have been heard."
"It shows what can happen when people speak out and our regulators listen," Hwang said.
PURA's ruling disallowed several items Aquarion officials had included in their original request to raise rates.
Those items included $4.9 million associated with the company's 2017 merger with Eversource Energy and $390,000 in outside legal costs associated with the rate case. Also disallowed were $300,712 in non-industry membership dues and $37,812 in entertainment expenses.
Aquarion submitted its application for a rate increase in August 2022. The Bridgeport-based utility's last rate case was completed in 2013,