REMARKS OF SEEMA M. SINGH, ESQ.
PRESENTED BY DEBRA ROBINSON, ESQ.
ASSISTANT DEPUTY RATEPAYER ADVOCATE
DIVISION OF THE RATEPAYER ADVOCATE
In the Matter of the Petition of Consumers New
Company, Inc. for Approval of an Increase in Rates for Water Service
and other Tariff Changes
BPU Docket No. WR03120974
OAL Docket No.: PUCRS 00200-2004S
Hamilton, New Jersey
March 25, 2004
Good evening everyone, my name is Debra Robinson. I am an attorney representing
the New Jersey Division of the Ratepayer Advocate (“Ratepayer Advocate”).
Our office was created by the New Jersey Legislature to protect the interests
of all utility consumers and to represent ratepayers in cases such as
this where a utility seeks changes in their rates or services.
In order to effectively represent the public in utility rate cases, our
office uses a team of lawyers, accountants, and economists to analyze
requests for rate and service changes filed by companies who provide energy,
water, and telecommunications services in New Jersey.
In the present case, Consumers New Jersey Water Company, Inc. (“Consumers”,
now known as “Aqua New Jersey, Inc.”) is a public utility
that collects, treats and distributes water for retail service to more
than 38,0000 throughout portions of the State of New Jersey. Consumers
is also engaged in the wastewater collection and transmission business
and currently serves more than 3,000 customers, however, this matter only
involves the water side of the business. Consumers serves water customers
in various municipalities in western New Jersey and classifies its franchise
territory through three divisions: Northern Division, Central Division
and the Southern Division.
On December 4, 2003, Consumers filed a petition with the New Jersey Board
of Public Utilities (“Board” or “BPU”) seeking
approval for an increase in rates for water service of 14.6% or $2.6 million
in annual revenues. Rates are proposed to become effective on September
4, 2004. The average residential water customer consuming 18,000 gallons
per quarter would experience an increase of approximately $14.00 per quarter.
The Ratepayer Advocate is currently conducting a complete and thorough
investigation of Consumers’ request for a rate increase in order
to evaluate whether and to what extent an increase in rates is proper
at this time. We have requested and received detailed information from
Consumers about the purported need for the rate increase. We have already
begun that review by issuing questions to Consumers, seeking to discover
detailed information regarding the proposed rate and tariff changes and
requesting that Consumers justify its expenses and provide evidence to
support its calculations.
We are in the process of analyzing the data received from Consumers. Our
consultants will offer testimony regarding various portions of this proposal
to increase your rates. We can state at this time that we have some serious
concerns regarding the requested increase. We are focusing especially
on these critical issues:
· Whether the data supporting the proposed rate increase is complete,
consistent and accurate;
· Whether or not the Company’s request is consistent with
the law and the Board of Public Utilities policies and regulations;
· Whether or not the Company’s proposal will allow the
utility to provide safe, adequate and proper service at the lowest possible
· Whether or not the Company will be treating all of its customers
consistently and fairly.
We expect to question Consumers’ representatives about these concerns
and to raise them at any settlement meetings. At the present time, evidentiary
hearings are scheduled for May 24, 25 and 26, 2004. At the evidentiary
hearings we will cross-examine any witnesses that the Company might present,
and submit expert testimony in support of our own recommendations. However,
it is important that you are aware that the ultimate decision regarding
this requested increase will be made by the Board.
The purpose of this public hearing this evening is for you, the customer,
to voice your opinion, relate your experiences and offer comments about
Consumers rates and any service problems you may be experiencing. It is
important that you express your views, as they become part of the record
on which the Administrative Law Judge and BPU make their decisions. The
Ratepayer Advocate also wants to hear your views. We strongly encourage
your participation, which will help us evaluate the Company's proposal
and prepare for the hearings.
This hearing is being transcribed and your comments will become part of
the record. Judge Wells will instruct you to give your name and address
before you speak. Please also be sure you put your name and address on
the sign in sheets I have placed in the back of the room. I would like
to reiterate the importance of this so that there will be a clear record
of your concerns and interests.
On behalf of the Ratepayer Advocate, I would like to thank you for attending
this public hearing.