We periodically report on matters that impact the costs large volume commercial, industrial and institutional customers pay for water/wastewater/stormwater service. Below is information pertaining to a York Water Company matter before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC” or “Commission”).
At the March 2, 2017, Public Meeting, the PUC voted to approve York Water Company’s (“York Water” or “Company”) plan for immediate replacement of both company and customer-owned lead service lines. This permits York Water to replace customer-owned lead lines at its initial expense, and then recover the costs as a regulatory asset in the Company’s next rate case.
York Water’s most recent drinking water results exceeded the lead action level established by Pennsylvania regulations. As a consequence, the Company became subject to a Consent Order with PaDEP that required specific action to reduce lead levels at customer taps. Pursuant to the Consent Order, York Water proposed a two-phase plan to replace both company and customer-owned lead service lines.
The Commission granted the Company’s two-phase plan, permitting York Water to bear the costs of replacing customer-owned lead services lines, and to begin line replacement work immediately, consistent with the Consent Order.
Phase I involves replacement of customer-owned lead service lines discovered concurrently with York Water’s planned replacement of approximately 1,660 lead company-owned service lines in certain portions of the water system. The estimated cost of replacing company-owned lead service lines is $2 million. After replacement, the customer will continue to own the service line and be responsible for maintenance and repair.
Phase II involves annual replacement of 400 lead customer-owned service lines whenever they are discovered, over a period of nine years. Under this phase, York Water would offer payment towards the replacement cost of the customer-owned lead service line. As with Phase I, the customer will continue to be responsible for maintaining and repairing the service line after replacement. In the event the number of Phase II replacements exceed those authorized, York Water must process them on a first-come, first-served basis. However, if a water test exceeds 15 pbb of lead, then the Company may prioritize such replacement.
As to cost, York Water must make a payment towards the replacement cost of the lead customer-owned service line up to the Company’s average contracted cost. For 2017, the average contracted cost is $1,150/service line replacement <10 feet and $1,250/service line replacement >10 feet. Customers must pay any difference as a lump sum, or as an amount added to their bill, to be paid within one year. The Company agrees not to charge interest on any payment period for the difference, other than late payment interest. If the Company is unable to collect the difference from a customer, and the difference is written off as uncollectible, York Water will be permitted to include uncollected amounts in the regulatory asset account.
The Company will offer a sliding-scale reimbursement to customers that have already replaced lead service lines within the past four years. As such, a customer who replaced a line within one year may recoup 80% of the cost of replacement from the Company. As the replacement grows older, reimbursement is less.
York Water must amortize amounts booked to the regulatory asset account in a base rate proceeding over a reasonable period (<6 years). Amortization will begin on the effective date of new rates in a base rate proceeding. York Water will reconcile amounts amortized to amounts incurred, and the difference must continue to be amortized in subsequent base rate proceedings. The allocation among customer classes of the recovery of amortized costs will be determined in a base rate proceeding.
In closing remarks, Commissioner Powelson stated: “The importance of ensuring safe drinking water for all Pennsylvanians cannot be overstated. However, in this post-Flint, Michigan world, it is not something we can take for granted. I commend York Water for recognizing this, for taking the issue seriously, and for acting quickly to resolve it. I encourage other utilities to do the same….”
However, it appears the PUC actions have not (yet) addressed the cost consequences on all ratepayers for lead-line replacement. No legitimate reason exists for this cost to be passed on to large commercial or industrial customers; why this unvarnished fact was not now determined by this Commission is unclear, but suggests some contemplate these costs to be recovered volumetrically (as in the DSIC or CSIC) in which large commercial and industrial customers will shoulder most of the cost responsibility.