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Monday, June 2, 2014

Water utility seeks 12 percent increase for some subscribers

While rates in Nashua and several area towns will barely budge, customers of Pennichuck Water Works’ two other arms – Pennichuck East and Pittsfield Aqueduct – could see their rates jump by double digit amounts if the firm’s rate-increase request is approved by the state Public Utilities Commission.

The increases, which a state consumer advocate said would be the first to occur since the City of Nashua acquired Pennichuck in 2012, have been under consideration by the PUC since a public hearing on May 20. ...

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While rates in Nashua and several area towns will barely budge, customers of Pennichuck Water Works’ two other arms – Pennichuck East and Pittsfield Aqueduct – could see their rates jump by double digit amounts if the firm’s rate-increase request is approved by the state Public Utilities Commission.

The increases, which a state consumer advocate said would be the first to occur since the City of Nashua acquired Pennichuck in 2012, have been under consideration by the PUC since a public hearing on May 20.

Assistant consumer advocate Rorie Hollenberg said Friday that the commission’s decision should come down in the near future. If approved, the annual bill for residential customers served by Pennichuck East Utility, which includes Litchfield, Londonderry, Windham and Pelham and several non-area towns, will increase by rou ghly 12 percent.

The current average residential bill of about $630 per year would, under the proposed increase, rise to about $705 annually, according to Pennichuck estimates.

Customers in towns served by Pennichuck Water Works itself – Nashua, Merrimack, Milford, Amherst, Hollis, Bedford and Salem – will see only a increase of 0.12 percent, which means the average customer would pay just 24 cents more per year.

Hollenberg said the utility’s three divisions submitted increase proposals to the PUC last June.

The commission has up to a year to hold a public hearing and rule on the matter, she said.

“They were required to come in and file rate cases for each of the utilities by June,” Hollenberg said of Pennichuck. The PUC, she said, is still deliberating, but a ruling should be coming down soon.

Pennichuck CEO John Patenaude couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, but he said at the time of the hearing that the firm sought the rate hikes because the cost of operations, and the cost of labor, have both gone up.

“It’s been over six years without a rate increase,” Patenaude told the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune last week.

Regarding Pennichuck East, he said the requested rate hike breaks down to a 9.9 increase retroactive to July 1 and a 1.6 percent step increase that is not retroactive.

Patenaude told the Eagle-Tribune that the increases together would raise just over $650,000 in new revenue, which would likely be applied to upgrading water lines and installing a pump station in Windham.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).