Aqua Pennsylvania, the Bryn Mawr company that has been buying up public utilities in the Philadelphia suburbs in recent years, is seeking to increase water bills for 445,000 customers by 17% and sewer bills by almost double that.
Aqua filed a request late Friday afternoon with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission that would boost a typical residential water bill for a customer using 4,000 gallons a month from $69.35 to $81.32, an increase of $11.97 a month, or 17%.
Residential bills for Aqua’s 45,000 wastewater customers would be increased from $55.51 to $73.95, a boost of $18.44, or 33%.
The combined rate increase would raise Aqua Pennsylvania’s annual revenue by $98 million, about 18%, according to an Aqua spokeswoman. In an annual report filed with the PUC, Aqua reported making net income of $188 million last year on $509 million of operating revenue.
The PUC can take up to nine months to rule on a rate request; customers would not see any increase in bills until next year.
The details of Aqua’s rate filing were scarce because hundreds of pages of supporting documentation for its request were not yet posted Monday afternoon on the PUC’s website.
The company said in a statement that the primary reason it needed to increase charges was to recover $1.1 billion that it spent to upgrade its distribution and treatment systems, including a new $8 million laboratory opened last month at its Bryn Mawr headquarters.
Aqua’s announcement did not quantify the impact of its recent purchases of several municipal water and wastewater systems, which it accomplished under a 2016 state law that allows buyers to pay the higher “fair market value” for municipal systems, rather than the lower book value. The higher prices paid have persuaded many officials in hard-pressed communities to sell.
But Pennsylvania’s Office of Consumer Advocate has argued that the law, known as Act 12, has encouraged inflated prices. This, critics say, has fueled a faster recent pace of water and wastewater rate increases than those of other Pennsylvania utilities.
Since 2016, Aqua has agreed to buy eight systems in the Philadelphia suburbs for a total of $295 million —- New Garden Township, Limerick, East Bradford, Cheltenham, East Norriton, Lower Makefield, Willistown and East Whiteland. It has a deal to buy the massive DELCORA wastewater system in Delaware and Chester Counties for $277 million and has offered to buy the Chester Water Authority for $410 million. Both of those deals are tied up in litigation.
Aqua last raised bills in 2019, when the PUC approved a boost of 9.8% in the bills for water customers and 34.6% for wastewater customers. The final rate increase was about two-thirds of what Aqua first sought.
Though the combined water and wastewater bill for a typical customer would approach $1,900 a year under its latest request, the company presented the cost as a bargain, saying water would cost a typical household only about $2.71 a day — or about 2 cents a gallon.
Aqua is a subsidiary of Essential Utilities Inc., a name the company adopted after it acquired Peoples Gas, which operates natural gas utilities in Western Pennsylvania and in Kentucky.
Aqua has water operations in eight states. Its Pennsylvania unit is its largest, and has 490,000 water and wastewater customers. About 83% of them are in the four counties surrounding Philadelphia. Sewer customers are a minority, about 9% of the total.