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Only one voice protests Pennichuck 36% water rate hike

Aug 2, 2006

By Karen Spiller
Telegraph Staff

CONCORD – Only one Nashua resident concerned about Pennichuck Water Works’ double-digit rate hike showed up for Tuesday’s hearing at the Public Utilities Commission.

Fred Teeboom, a city alderman, said he was representing himself as a citizen when he requested and was granted “intervener status” Tuesday.

Anheuser-Busch Inc. – Pennichuck’s largest customer – as well as the city of Nashua were granted intervener status, which makes them parties to the case and allows them to give input to the commission.

Although Pennichuck has asked the PUC, which regulates utilities in the state, to approve a 36.5 percent total revenue increase, residential customers would actually see a 43 percent hike in their bills because Pennichuck isn’t increasing rates to its fire protection customers. Essentially, residential customers will bear the burden of the increase.

“I’m just concerned as many citizens are with these increases,” Teeboom told the PUC commissioners. “It seems like a very large number . . . I want to know what’s going on.”

The PUC did not make a decision Tuesday on the proposed increase. Instead, it will conduct a hearing Sept. 6 on a temporary rate increase.

Pennichuck executives and PUC staff agreed to a schedule that wouldn’t lead to a decision on permanent rates until April 2007.

Nashua residents Claire McHugh and Barbara Pressly, who had e-mailed their requests to intervene, were also recognized as interveners, although neither attended Tuesday’s hearing.Steve Merrill, utility analyst with the state Office of Consumer Advocate, said he plans to look into Pennichuck’s forecasts for growth in customers and expenses, and its personnel costs, among other things.

“The devil will be in the details,” he said.

Two years ago, the PUC approved an 11.8 percent increase. If this one gets the green light, an average single-family residential water bill of $333.83 a year would go up to $477.75, an increase of $11.99 a month, or about $144 a year.

The rate increase would go into effect in two phases. An immediate temporary increase of 15.2 percent would be implemented this fall, with a permanent increase of 36.5 percent to kick in by the spring of 2007.

The first increase would generate about $2.65 million in annual gross operating revenue, while the overall increase would bring in $3.4 million.

Utility officials said they need the increases because they need to make $32 million in improvements to Pennichuck’s water treatment plant. The upgrades are required for continued compliance with the federal Safe Water Act, the company said.

Rates would increase for about 24,000 customers in Nashua, Amherst, Bedford, Hollis, Merrimack and Milford, as well as people in parts of Derry, Plaistow, Epping, Salem and Newmarket.

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