Smart Water Westport was formed in 2017, during the Aquarion North Avenue water tank debate.
Since then, that group of residents has followed the state’s water activities. Last year, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority granted intervener status to Smart Water Westport in Aquarion’s rate case, allowing them to review thousands of documents and asked questions.
Smart Water Westport says:
Wednesday was an important day in Connecticut. For the first time in decades, the state’s utility regulator (PURA), rejected a requested rate hike by a utility.
Aquarion — our water company — sought a 30% rate increase over the next 3 years. In a 2-1 decision, PURA denied the request.
While this sounds like good news for customers, Westporters still face substantial increases — and still need to pay close attention. Here’s why:
1. Aquarion lost its bid for a rate hike because PURA found that it did not provide enough evidence to support the increase. This is a clear win for customers.
But those of us with yards, lawns or pools will still see an increase of up to 80%, because of a new rate structure that charges a premium for any water beyond what is deemed “essential.” The end result: Before you install a new lawn or turn on your irrigation system, think twice. At the very least, be sure to fix leaks — and plan for bigger bills.
2. Aquarion will most likely learn from this loss. We expect they will try to make a stronger case next time.
When they do that, it’s important that the town get credit for its conservation efforts, which are considerable.
It’s estimated that Westport’s water consumption will soon be down by 30% from the 2016 level, significantly more than Aquarion expected.
Unfortunately though, we won’t get credit for those savings. While we saved a great deal — mainly due to irrigation restrictions — we are seen as a wealthy town that can afford higher rates.
We need to fix that, so next time we can make the case to PURA that savings should be taken into account.
In fact, based on PURA’s decision, we estimate water bills in Westport are approximately twice as high as needed.
We are already paying 50% more than our neighbors in Norwalk. The difference is that Norwalk owns its water utility, while Westport is served by Aquarion, a private utility owned by Eversource.
This public/private distinction is a big part of the problem. But there are other reasons for our high rates as well.
For example, under current rules we wind up paying for Aquarion’s rate case proceedings. The cost of those proceedings is significant. This last proceeding alone would allow Norwalk water customers to cover their entire legal budget for the next 500 years (you read that correctly).
3. While water is certainly a critical resource, and we all agree that infrastructure investments are necessary, we are not sure we can trust Aquarion on these issues.
During this last go-round, for example, Aquarion basically told PURA that if they didn’t get their way, we could wind up like Flint, Michigan — a prophecy that even the regulators found “outlandish.” (PURA still approved $600 million in infrastructure investment, despite finding that Aquarion had not provided evidence for its “prudence,” as required by law).
Do we really need the new work that Aquarion is suggesting, or are they simply doing it to push more water around the state and/or make more money? We must be vigilant about these types of issues moving forward.
4. Finally, this is only the beginning: Aquarion is likely to appeal the decision.
We need to involve Westporters in the process and in a discussion about the state of water in our state, the future readiness of the system, and who will pay for it.
That’s why a group of us formed the non-profit Smart Water Westport, and are participating in the proceedings.
But we face huge hurdles, including that neither the state nor anyone else knows about the infrastructure situation because of a recognized “asymmetry of information.” (That basically means it is impossible to verify any information provided by private utilities).
But there is hope. As PURA’s chair recently noted, “If there is a message coming out of today, it is simply that PURA is prepared to hold regulated utilities accountable. And that’s what this decision does.”
Smart Water Westport encourages you to listen to the court’s deliberation on YouTube (below), where the 9-month process is summarized in a mere 20 minutes.
Please actively comment and support the decision. Even if you disagree, please consider commenting. Based on our experience, any comment is looked at and helps the state to improve the system for all of us.
If you have questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
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