§24-2-4b. Procedures for changing rates of electric and natural gas cooperatives, local exchange services of telephone cooperatives and municipally operated public utilities.

     (a) The rates and charges of electric cooperatives, natural gas cooperatives and municipally operated public utilities, except for municipally operated commercial solid waste facilities as defined in section two, article fifteen, chapter twenty-two of this code, and the rates and charges for local exchange services provided by telephone cooperatives are not subject to the rate approval provisions of section four or four-a of this article, but are subject to the limited rate provisions of this section.

     (b) All rates and charges set by electric cooperatives, natural gas cooperatives and municipally operated public utilities and all rates and charges for local exchange services set by telephone cooperatives shall be just, reasonable, applied without unjust discrimination or preference and based primarily on the costs of providing these services. The rates and charges shall be adopted by the electric, natural gas or telephone cooperative's governing board and in the case of the municipally operated public utility by municipal ordinance to be effective not sooner than forty-five days after adoption: Provided, That notice of intent to effect a rate change shall be specified on the monthly billing statement of the customers of the utility for the month next preceding the month in which the rate change is to become effective or the utility shall give its customers, and in the case of a cooperative, its customers, members and stockholders, other reasonable notices as will allow filing of timely objections to the rate change or full participation in municipal rate legislation. The rates and charges or ordinance shall be filed with the commission, together with any information showing the basis of the rates and charges and other information as the commission considers necessary. Any change in the rates and charges with updated information shall be filed with the commission. If a petition, as set out in subdivision (1), (2) or (3), subsection (c) of this section is received and the electric cooperative, natural gas cooperative or telephone cooperative or municipality has failed to file with the commission the rates and charges with information showing the basis of rates and charges and other information as the commission considers necessary, the suspension period limitation of one hundred twenty days and the one hundred-day period limitation for issuance of an order by a hearing examiner, as contained in subsections (d) and (e) of this section, is tolled until the necessary information is filed. The electric cooperative, natural gas cooperative, telephone cooperative or municipality shall set the date when any new rate or charge is to go into effect.

     (c) The commission shall review and approve or modify the rates upon the filing of a petition within thirty days of the adoption of the ordinance or resolution changing the rates or charges by:

     (1) Any customer aggrieved by the changed rates or charges who presents to the commission a petition signed by not less than twenty-five percent of the customers served by the municipally operated public utility or twenty-five percent of the membership of the electric, natural gas or telephone cooperative residing within the state;

     (2) Any customer who is served by a municipally operated public utility and who resides outside the corporate limits and who is affected by the change in the rates or charges and who presents to the commission a petition alleging discrimination between customers within and without the municipal boundaries. The petition shall be accompanied by evidence of discrimination; or

     (3) Any customer or group of customers who are affected by the change in rates who reside within the municipal boundaries and who present a petition to the commission alleging discrimination between customer or group of customers and other customers of the municipal utility. The petition shall be accompanied by evidence of discrimination.

     (d)(1) The filing of a petition with the commission signed by not less than twenty-five percent of the customers served by the municipally operated public utility or twenty-five percent of the membership of the electric, natural gas or telephone cooperative residing within the state under subdivision (1), subsection (c) of this section shall suspend the adoption of the rate change contained in the ordinance or resolution for a period of one hundred twenty days from the date the rates or charges would otherwise go into effect or until an order is issued as provided herein.

     (2) Upon sufficient showing of discrimination by customers outside the municipal boundaries or a customer or a group of customers within the municipal boundaries under a petition filed under subdivision (2) or (3), subsection (c) of this section, the commission shall suspend the adoption of the rate change contained in the ordinance for a period of one hundred twenty days from the date the rates or charges would otherwise go into effect or until an order is issued as provided herein. A municipal rate ordinance enacted pursuant to the provisions of this section and municipal charter or state code that establishes or proposes a rate increase that results in an increase of less than twenty-five percent of the gross revenue of the utility shall be presumed valid and rates shall be allowed to go into effect, subject to refund, upon the date stated in that ordinance. In the case of rates established or proposed that increase by more than twenty-five percent of the gross revenue of the municipally operated public utility, the utility may apply for, and the commission may grant, a waiver of the suspension period and allow rates to be effective upon enactment.

     (e) The commission shall forthwith appoint a hearing examiner from its staff to review the grievances raised by the petitioners. The hearing examiner shall conduct a public hearing and shall, within one hundred days from the date the rates or charges would otherwise go into effect, unless otherwise tolled as provided in subsection (b) of this section, issue an order approving, disapproving or modifying, in whole or in part, the rates or charges imposed by the electric, natural gas or telephone cooperative or by the municipally operated public utility pursuant to this section.

     (f) Upon receipt of a petition for review of the rates under the provisions of subsection (c) of this section, the commission may exercise the power granted to it under the provisions of section three of this article, consistent with the applicable rate provisions of section twenty, article ten, chapter eight of this code, section four, article nineteen, chapter eight of this code, and section sixteen, article thirteen, chapter sixteen of this code. The commission may determine the method by which the rates are reviewed and may grant and conduct a de novo hearing on the matter if the customer, electric, natural gas or telephone cooperative or municipality requests a hearing.

     (g) A municipal utility shall be required to refund revenues collected from rates enacted that are disapproved or modified upon subsequent order of the commission entered in a proceeding under this section. Any refund determined to be due and owing as a result of any difference between the municipal rates placed into effect subject to refund and any final rates approved the commission shall be refunded by the municipal utility 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 refunded by credit within six months after entry of the commission's final order shall be directly refunded to the individual customer by check.

      (h) The commission may, upon petition by a municipality or electric, natural gas or telephone cooperative, allow an interim or emergency rate to take effect, subject to refund or future modification, if it is determined that the interim or emergency rate is necessary to protect the municipality from financial hardship attributable to the purchase of the utility commodity sold, or the commission determines that a temporary or interim rate increase is necessary for the utility to avoid financial distress. In such cases, the commission shall waive the 45-day waiting period provided for in subsection (b) of this section and the one hundred twenty-day suspension period provided for in subsection (d) of this section.

     (i) Notwithstanding any other provision, the commission has no authority or responsibility with regard to the regulation of rates, income, services or contracts by municipally operated public utilities for services which are transmitted and sold outside of the State of West Virginia.