A state regulator has denied a water utility’s request to raise its rates by 80 percent.
Carolina Water Service (CWS) has 16,000 customers in Aiken, Beaufort, Georgetown, Lexington, Orangeburg, Richland, Sumter, Williamsburg and York Counties. Its parent company Utilities, Inc. said it needed the hike to pay for new infrastructure and to recoup higher operating expenses from the past six years. The move would have raised the average monthly bill from $36 to more than $65. CWS also sought to raise its sewer rates by 14 percent.
The company needed permission the South Carolina Public Service Commission before it could act. On Thursday, the commission denied the request, with members saying they did not believe the hike was justified.
After learning about the possible rate increase in April, hundreds of angry residents turned out at the commission’s hearings over the summer. They also complained about the company’s customer service. The state Office of Regulatory Staff (which acts in the public’s interest on water, sewer, and electric issues) said it received 45 complaints about CWS from October 2010 to July 2011.
Legislators also pushed the commission to turn down the request. “The public was given an opportunity to voice their concerns and complaints, and I am extremely thankful that their voices were heard loud and clear,” State Sen. Jake Knotts (R-Lexington) said in a statement, “An increase of 80% is outrageous, and I am grateful that the PSC came to the conclusion it did.”
However, officials at the utility said the rejection was not fair to them. “We have invested almost $10 million in the infrastructure, a fact which was not disputed by the Commission, so it is extremely frustrating that we were denied any recovery for that investment whatsoever,” President and CEO Lisa Sparrow said in a statement.
The Public Service Commission is a seven-member body, with six members appointed by the Legislature and one appointed by the governor.