This week saw the first day that Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission, which also oversees ordinances for Marcellus Shale gas exploration and extraction, will begin oversight of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. The PWSA was founded in 17 February 1984 to manage a $200 million capital improvement program directed towards the Pittsburgh’s water treatment and distribution system. The large municipal water authority is not a public utility, however as of April 1, the state public utility commission will provide additional oversight to PWSA.
In November of 2017, the legislature voted to alter Pennsylvania’s public utilities statute to place the PWSA under PUC’s watch.
“There’s been a lot of communication back and forth, in terms of helping our consumer protection and technical staff understand the processes that PWSA has been using, and to help PWSA understand the rules of the road,”, said commission press secretary Nils Hagen-Frederiksen.
The PUC now oversees three main elements of the utility’s operations: rate-setting, consumer protection, and added input to long term plans.
Will Pickering, the PWSA spokesperson said; “We want to resolve issues at PWSA,” he said. “We want to make sure [people] are satisfied with [our] response. If, for whatever reason, that satisfaction wasn’t achieved, then PUC is an additional outlet.”
Governance started n April 1, with key issues needing to be resolved. On July 2, PWSA is required submit a rate case filing. The document will explain why the authority is increasing its rates. In 2017, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority board of directors gave the green light for a 28 percent increase for 2018’s rates, having taken effect Jan. 1. Increases were also approved for 2019 and 2020.
Bob Weimar, the interim executive director for the PWSA, claims to serve approximately 250,000 customers, spoke of his hope that the PUC will allow the planned increases for 2018 and 2019 to stay intact. A portion of the revenue generated is being allocated to much needed infrastructure improvement projects. Pennsylvania sewer repair is an ongoing issue for residents across the State.
“But all of that is subject to their review,” Bob Weimar said. “The goal is to try and avoid the necessity of rolling rates back, and hence the reason for trying to give them a three-year plan in September.”
Both Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission and Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority officials said the change will benefit the consumer.