H. B. 2878

(By Delegate Perdue)
[Introduced February 24, 1999; referred to the
Committee on the Judiciary.]

A BILL to amend and reenact section four, article two, chapter twenty-four of the code of West Virginia, one thousand nine hundred thirty-one, as amended, relating to the public service commission and procedure for rate changes by utilities; and requiring notice to customers ninety days prior to the proposed rate increase being considered.

Be it enacted by the Legislature of West Virginia:
That section four, article two, chapter twenty-four of the code of West Virginia, one thousand nine hundred thirty-one, as amended, be amended and reenacted to read as follows:

§24-2-4. Procedure for changing rates.

No public utility subject to this chapter, except those utilities subject to the provisions of section four-b of this article, shall may change, suspend or annul any rate, joint rate, charge, rental or classification except after thirty ninety days' notice to the commission and the public, which notice shall must plainly state the changes proposed to be made in the schedule then in force and the time when the changed rates or charges shall go into effect; but the commission may enter an order suspending the proposed rate as hereinafter provided. The proposed changes shall must be shown by printing new schedules, or shall must be plainly indicated upon the schedules in force at the time, and kept open to public inspection: Provided, That the commission may, in its discretion, and for good cause shown, allow changes upon less time than the notice herein specified, or may modify the requirements of this section in respect to publishing, posting and filing of tariffs, either by particular instructions or by general order.
Whenever there shall be is filed with the commission any schedule stating a change in the rates or charges, or joint rates or charges, or stating a new individual or joint rate or charge or joint classification or any new individual or joint regulation or practice affecting any rate or charge, the commission shall have has authority, either upon complaint or upon its own initiative without complaint, to enter upon a hearing concerning the propriety of such the rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice; and, if the commission so orders, it may proceed without answer or other form of pleading by the interested parties, but upon reasonable notice, and, pending such the hearing and the decision thereon, the commission, upon filing with such the schedule and delivering to the public utility affected thereby a statement in writing of its reasons for such suspension, may suspend the operation of such the schedule and defer the use of such the rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice, but not for a longer period than one hundred and twenty days beyond the time when such the rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice would otherwise go into effect; and after full hearing, whether completed before or after the rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice goes into effect, the commission may make such order in reference to such the rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice as would be is proper in a proceeding initiated after the rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice had become becomes effective: Provided, That if any such hearing and decision thereon cannot be is not concluded within the period of suspension, as above stated, such the rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice shall go goes into effect at the end of such the period. In such that case the commission may require such the public utility to enter into a bond in an amount deemed determined by the commission to be reasonable and conditioned for the refund to the persons or parties entitled thereto to the refund of the amount of the excess, plus interest at the rate of not less than seven percent per annum, as may be specified by the commission, if such the rate so put into effect is subsequently determined to be higher than those finally fixed for such the utility. In specifying the applicable interest rate, the commission shall be guided by the interest rate which such the public utility would in all probability have to agree to pay if such the public utility at that time borrowed in the marketplace a sum of money equivalent to the amount of money the commission estimates the increase in rates will produce between the effective date of such the increase and the anticipated date the rates will be finally fixed for such the public utility, it being intended that a public utility should be discouraged from imposing higher rates than it should reasonably anticipate will be finally fixed as a means in effect of borrowing money at a rate of interest less than such the public utility would have to agree to pay if it borrowed money in the marketplace. No such accrued interest paid on any such refund shall be deemed may be considered part of the cost of doing business in a subsequent application for changing rates or any decision thereon on an application. At any hearing involving a rate sought to be increased or involving the change of any fare, charge, classification, regulation or practice, the burden of proof to show that the increased rate or proposed increased rate, or the proposed change of fare, charge, classification, regulation or practice is just and reasonable shall be is upon the public utility making application for such the change. When in any case pending before the commission all evidence shall have has been taken, and the hearing completed, the commission shall must, within three months, render a decision in such that case.
Where more than twenty members of the public are affected by a proposed change in rates, it shall be a sufficient notice to the public within the meaning of this section if such notice is published as a Class II legal advertisement in compliance with the provision of article three, chapter fifty-nine of this code, and the publication area for such publication shall be the community where the majority of the resident members of the public affected by such change reside or, in case of nonresidents, have their principal place of business within this state. The provisions of this section shall expire on and be of no further force and effect after the thirtieth day of June, one thousand nine hundred eighty-one, except that as to any case pending on said date in which the suspension period has expired and rates are in effect under bond such case shall be proceeded with in accordance with this section; as to any other case pending on said date, the commission shall treat the case as filed anew on the first day of July, one thousand nine hundred eighty- one, except that it shall not be necessary for any new process or notice to be served or published means a written notice from the public utility included with the monthly billing statement and mailed to the customers of that public utility at least ninety days before the proposed rate increase is to be considered by the commission. The public utility shall also include in the mailing a form addressed to the commission which customers may use to comment on the proposed rate increase.

NOTE: The purpose of this bill is to require public utilities to notify customers of proposed rate increases in writing at least ninety days before the date of the proposed increase is considered by mailing the notice to the customer with the monthly billing statement.

Strike-throughs indicate language that would be stricken from the present law, and underscoring indicates new language that would be added.