§24-2-4a. Procedure for changing rates after June 30, 1981.

     After June 30, 1981, no public utility subject to this chapter except those utilities subject to the provisions of section four-b and section four-d of this article, shall change, suspend or annul any rate, joint rate, charge, rental or classification except after thirty days' notice to the commission and the public, which notice shall 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 be shown by printing new schedules, or shall 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 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 may either upon complaint or upon its own initiative without complaint enter upon a hearing concerning the propriety of such 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 hearing and the decisions thereon, the commission, upon filing with such 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 schedule and defer the use of such rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice, but not for a longer period than two hundred seventy days beyond the time when such 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 rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice as would be proper in a proceeding initiated after the rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice had become effective: Provided, That in the case of a public utility having two thousand five hundred customers or less and which is not principally owned by any other public utility corporation or public utility holding corporation, the commission may suspend the operation of such schedule and defer the use of such rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice, but not for a longer period than one hundred twenty days beyond the time when such rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice would otherwise go into effect; and in the case of a public utility having more than two thousand five hundred customers, but not more than five thousand customers, and which is not principally owned by any other public utility corporation or public utility holding corporation, the commission may suspend the operation of such schedule and defer the use of such rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice, but not for a longer period than one hundred fifty days beyond the time when such rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice would otherwise go into effect; and in the case of a public utility having more than five thousand customers, but not more than seven thousand five hundred customers, and which is not principally owned by any other public utility corporation or public utility holding corporation, the commission may suspend the operation of such schedule and defer the use of such rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice, but not for a longer period than one hundred eighty days beyond the time when such 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 rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice as would be proper in a proceeding initiated after the rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice had become effective: Provided, however, That, in the case of rates established or proposed that increase by less than twenty-five percent of the gross revenue of the public service district, there shall be no suspension period in the case of rates established by a public service district pursuant to section nine, article thirteen-a, chapter sixteen of this code, and the proposed rates of public service districts shall go into effect upon the date of filing with the commission, subject to refund modification at the conclusion of the commission proceeding. In the case of rates established or proposed that increase by more than twenty-five percent of the gross revenue of the public service district, the district may apply for, and the commission may grant, a waiver of the suspension period and allow rates to be effective upon the date of filing with the commission. The public service district shall provide notice by Class 1 legal advertisement in a newspaper of general circulation in its service territory of the percentage increase in rates at least fourteen days prior to the effective date of the increased rates. Any refund determined to be determined to be due and owing as a result of any difference between any final rates approved by the commission and the rates placed into effect subject to refund shall be refunded by the public service district as a credit against each customer's account for a period of up to six months after entry of the commission's final order. Any remaining balance which is not fully credited by credit within six months after entry of the commission's final order shall be directly refunded to the customer by check: Provided, further, That if any such hearing and decision thereon is not concluded within the periods of suspension, as above stated, such rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice shall go into effect at the end of such period not subject to refund: And provided further, That if any such rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice goes into effect because of the failure of the commission to reach a decision, the same shall not preclude the commission from rendering a decision with respect thereto which would disapprove, reduce or modify any such proposed rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice, in whole or in part, but any such disapproval, reduction or modification shall not be deemed to require a refund to the customers of such utility as to any rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice so disapproved, reduced or modified. The fact of any rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice going into effect by reason of the commission's failure to act thereon shall not affect the commission's power and authority to subsequently act with respect to any such application or change in any rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice. Any rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice which shall be approved, disapproved, modified or changed, in whole or in part, by decision of the commission shall remain in effect as so approved, disapproved, modified or changed during the period or pendency of any subsequent hearing thereon or appeal therefrom. Orders of the commission affecting rates, charges, classifications, regulations or practices which have gone into effect automatically at the end of the suspension period are prospective in effect only.    At any hearing involving a rate sought to be increased or involving the change of any rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice, the burden of proof to show the justness and reasonableness of the increased rate or proposed increased rate, or the proposed change of rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice shall be upon the public utility making application for such change. The commission shall, whenever practicable and within budgetary constraints, conduct one or more public hearings within the area served by the public utility making application for such increase or change, for the purpose of obtaining comments and evidence on the matter from local ratepayers.

     Each public utility subject to the provisions of this section shall be required to establish, in a written report which shall be incorporated into each general rate case application, that it has thoroughly investigated and considered the emerging and state-of- the-art concepts in the utility management, rate design and conservation as reported by the commission under subsection ©, section one, article one of this chapter, as alternatives to, or in mitigation of, any rate increase. The utility report shall contain as to each concept considered the reasons for adoption or rejection of each. When in any case pending before the commission all evidence shall have been taken and the hearing completed, the commission shall render a decision in such case. The failure of the commission to render a decision with respect to any such proposed change in any such rate, charge, classification, regulation or practice within the various time periods specified in this section after the application therefor shall constitute neglect of duty on the part of the commission and each member thereof.

     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 provisions 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 commission may order rates into effect subject to refund, plus interest in the discretion of the commission, in cases in which the commission determines that a temporary or interim rate increase is necessary for the utility to avoid financial distress, or in which the costs upon which these rates are based are subject to modification by the commission or another regulatory commission and to refund to the public utility. In such case the commission may require such public utility to enter into a bond in an amount deemed by the commission to be reasonable and conditioned upon the refund to the persons or parties entitled thereto of the amount of the excess if such rates so put into effect are subsequently determined to be higher than those finally fixed for such utility.

     No utility may make application for a general rate increase while another general rate application is pending before the commission and not finally acted upon, except pursuant to the provisions of the next preceding paragraph of this section. The provisions of this paragraph shall not be construed so as to prohibit any such rate application from being made while a previous application which has been finally acted upon by the commission is pending before or upon appeal to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.