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Bill would block utilities from raising rates to fund hydrant upkeep program

By Mike Tony, Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Last month, staff for the West Virginia Public Service Commission issued a report finding a widespread failure among water utilities throughout the state to inspect, test and maintain fire hydrants.

“[I]t is an unacceptable situation which must be corrected,” warned a state Public Service Commission staff memorandum filed with the agency.

PSC staff recommended a state- funded and statewide hydrant replacement program for nonprofit water utilities, predicting smaller utilities couldn’t afford hydrant replacement costs without significant rate hikes. Staff suggested $70 million to support the program.

The Legislature is moving in a different direction.

The House of Delegates Technology and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday advanced a bill that would update standards public water utilities must follow for hydrant testing and maintenance — and hold that codifying the standards is not a cause for which utilities may seek rate recovery.

The provision barring utilities from increasing rates to meet the standards House Bill 5617 would update was pushed by committee Chair Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, over the objection of PSC Chairman Charlotte Lane.

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