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NC's Cooper says Aqua NC should face hearings before raising rates

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Utility company Aqua should not get to raise customers’ rates without holding public hearings, Attorney General Roy Cooper said Wednesday.

Cooper said he filed to appeal a provision adopted earlier this year by the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

“Consumers deserve quality water at a fair price and they deserve a chance to weigh in when a utility wants a rate hike,” Cooper said in a statement. “The Utilities Commission should have all information before making a decision to raise rates.” Aqua NC said "the WSIC has a proven track record of benefiting customers, the environment and the economy in replacing against infrastructure and improving quality of service."

Aqua NC is the state’s largest water utility and reaches customers in 52 of the state’s 100 counties.

Aqua NC, in a statement, said the water and wastewater infrastructure improvement charge (WSIC) is "designed to provide customers of North Carolina's regulated water and wastewater utilities with improved water quality and better water and wastewater systems."

In May, Aqua NC won its third rate increase in six years, getting a 5.2 percent increase.

In 2011, the water utility requested a 19 percent increase and the state granted 5 percent.

The Attorney General’s appeal contends that the Utilities Commission did not make appropriate findings or conclusions in granting Aqua the power to raise future rates automatically without first seeking meaningful input from consumers through public hearings.

The accelerated approval process granted for future Aqua rate hikes also means that the Attorney General and other parties would not get a chance to conduct discovery and cross examine the utility’s witnesses, the AG’s office said.

Aqua is the state’s largest private water utility, providing water and/or sewer services to 250,000 customers in 52 North Carolina counties.

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