Pursuant to the findings contained in subsections (h) and (i) of section one, article one of this chapter and in order to permit the Public Service Commission to implement the provisions of Enrolled Committee Substitute for S.B. 117 enacted by the Legislature during the regular session thereof in the year one thousand nine hundred eighty-three and notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, upon the effective date of this article, the commission shall authorize no increase of rates charged by any utility for natural gas to any customer of any class for a period of twelve months. With respect to cases for rate increases which are pending before the commission on the effective date of this section, such cases may be suspended by the commission and held in abeyance by the commission during the pendency of the period of suspension mandated by this section or any such cases may proceed to completion and the commission may rule thereon upon the same to the same extent as if this section had not been enacted, all within the sound discretion of the commission.
The commission may authorize such gas rate increases during the period of suspension of rate increases mandated by this section as it may deem proper by reason of increased costs of purchased gas. The commission may consider in determining whether to authorize such rate increases the purchase and use of West Virginia gas by such utilities if such gas were available at a cheaper rate than other gas actually purchased by such utilities.
During the period of temporary suspension of rates generally, as provided herein, the commission may upon petition by a utility allow an emergency rate to take effect, subject to future modification by the commission and subject to refund to the customers of such utility, if it is determined that such emergency rate is necessary to protect the utility from extreme financial hardship and if that financial hardship is attributable solely to the temporary suspension of rate increases. The commission shall provide by rule and regulation criteria for determination of extreme financial hardship within the meaning of this section. Such petition shall be subject to the same notice requirements as set forth in article two, section four-a of this chapter.