The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is seeking public comment on its initial plan for oversight of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. The tentative implementation order would officially bring PWSA under PUC jurisdiction on April 1.
A bill passed by the state legislature in late 2017 gave the PUC jurisdiction over the authority, which has faced many challenges including elevated lead levels in drinking water, billing problems and regular flush and boil orders.
Under PUC oversight, the commission would handle customer complaints regarding billing, meter readings, service termination and other issues, said spokesman Nils Hagen-Fredriksen.
“There are very clear protections for consumers and there’s a consistency to how those complaints would be handled,” he said.
The PUC would also have the power to approve or reject future rate increases.
“Which includes the requirement that the utility demonstrate that the rates are just and reasonable,” Hagen-Fredriksen said. “There’s a commission investigation into the financial and other investigation. There would be public input and there would be the ability for parties to voice their concerns while that rate case is being considered.”
PWSA must submit its rate-making plan by July 2, and the commission would have up to 270 days to either accept or reject the proposal. That means the authority’s plan to raise rates nearly 50 percent over 2017 levels by 2020 could be in jeopardy if the PUC finds it’s not justified.
But a more than $1 billion multi-year capital improvement plan depends, in part, on those rate increases.
PWSA spokesperson Will Pickering said in an email that the authority is working with a consultant to help it prepare for the upcoming PUC approval process.
“We will make our case and justify to the PUC that the projects in our capital improvement plan are essential to improving our water, sewer and stormwater systems,” Pickering said.
Additionally, the authority must submit plans for coming into compliance with PUC regulations and long-term infrastructure improvements.
In an emailed statement, PWSA interim executive director Bob Weimar says the authority appreciates the PUC guidance “as PWSA moves toward becoming the water, wastewater, and stormwater utility Pittsburgh expects and deserves.”
Stakeholders, including PWSA customers, local leaders and the authority itself, have until Feb. 7 to submit comments on the plan.