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Enrolled Version - Final Version Senate Bill 523 History

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Key: Green = existing Code. Red = new code to be enacted

WEST virginia legislature

2021 regular session

Enrolled

Senate Bill 523

By Senator Maynard

[Passed March 18, 2021; in effect 90 days from passage]

AN ACT to amend and reenact §24-2H-3, §24-2H-5, and §24-2H-8 of the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, all relating to correcting certain code references.

Be it enacted by the Legislature of West Virginia:


ARTICLE 2H. POWER OF COMMISSION TO ORDER MEASURES UP TO AND INCLUDING THE ACQUISITION OF DISTRESSED AND FAILING WATER AND WASTEWATER UTILITIES.

§24-2H-3. Definitions.


(a) A “distressed utility” is a water or wastewater utility that, for financial, operational, or managerial reasons:

(1) (A) Is in continual violation of statutory or regulatory standards of the Bureau for Public Health, the Department of Environmental Protection, or the commission, which affect the water quality, safety, adequacy, efficiency, or reasonableness of the service provided by the water or wastewater utility;

(B) Fails to comply within a reasonable period of time with any final, nonappealable order of the Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau for Public Health, or the commission concerning the safety, adequacy, efficiency, or reasonableness of service, including, but not limited to, the availability of water, the potability of water, the palatability of water, or the provision of water at adequate volume and pressure, and the collection and treatment of wastewater;

(2) Is no longer able to provide adequate, efficient, safe, and reasonable utility services; or

(3) Fails to timely pay some or all of its financial obligations, including, but not limited to, its federal and state tax obligations and its bond payments to the West Virginia Water Development Authority, the United States Department of Agriculture, or other bondholders; fails to maintain its debt service reserve; or fails to submit an audit as required by its bond or loan documents or state law.

(b) “Failing water or wastewater utility” means a public utility that:

Meets the definition of a distressed water or wastewater utility, and either:

(A) Has not, after a reasonable time period, been stabilized and improved by corrective measures put in place under §24-2H-7 of this code; or

(B) Has had the requirements of §24-2H-7 of this code suspended for good cause shown by an order of the commission.

(c) “Capable proximate water or wastewater utility” means a public utility which regularly provides adequate, safe, and reasonable service of the same type as the distressed utility and is situated close enough to the facilities of a distressed utility that operational management is reasonable, financially viable, and nonadverse to the interests of the current customers of the nondistressed utility.

§24-2H-5. Determination of whether a utility qualifies as a “distressed utility”, “failing utility”, or a “capable proximate utility”.


(a) In determining whether a utility is distressed or failing, the commission shall consider the following factors:

(1) The financial, managerial, and technical ability of the utility;

(2) The level of expenditures necessary to make improvements to the water or wastewater utility to assure compliance with applicable statutory and regulatory standards concerning the adequacy, efficiency, safety, or reasonableness of utility service and the impact of those expenditures on customer rates;

(3) The opinion and advice, if any, of the Department of Environmental Protection and the Bureau for Public Health as to steps that may be necessary to assure compliance with applicable statutory or regulatory standards concerning the adequacy, efficiency, safety, or reasonableness of utility service;

(4) The status of the utility’s bond payments and other financial obligations;

(5) The status and result of any corrective measures previously put into place under §24-2H-7 of this code; and

(6) Any other relevant matter.

(b) In determining whether a utility is a capable proximate utility, the commission shall consider the following factors:

(1) The financial, managerial, and technical ability of all proximate public utilities providing the same type of service;

(2) Expansion of the franchise or operating area of the acquiring utility to include the service area of the distressed utility;

(3) The financial, managerial, operational, and rate demands that may result from the current proceeding and the cumulative impact of other demands where the utility has been identified as a capable proximate utility; and

(4) Any other relevant matter.

§24-2H-8. Commission approval of operating agreement, acquisition price; rates for distressed and failing utilities; improvement plan; debt obligations; cost recovery.


(a) After an order has been entered pursuant to §24-2H-7 of this code, the distressed utility and acquiring utility shall file a petition with the commission under §24-2-12 of this code to approve the necessary operating agreement if such alternative is directed by the commission. After an order has been entered pursuant to §24-2H-7 of this code, the failing utility and acquiring utility shall file a petition with the commission under §24-2-12 of this code, to approve the purchase price of the acquisition. Where the parties are unable to agree on an acquisition price, the filing may request that an evidentiary hearing be held so that the commission may determine the acquisition price and any other issues related to the acquisition. The acquisition price must, at a minimum, satisfy all outstanding loans, tax obligations, required grant repayment, liens, and indebtedness owed by the failing utility or the acquiring utility must agree to assume the indebtednesses if legally permitted. The acquiring utility shall consult with the lenders or lienholders regarding payment in full or the assumption, to the extent legally permissible, of any outstanding obligations of the failing utility.

(b) The parties to an acquisition may propose to the commission other methods of determining the acquisition price.

(c) As part of the proceeding, the acquiring utility may propose to the commission that it be permitted for a reasonable period of time after the date of acquisition, to charge and collect rates from the customers of the failing utility pursuant to a separate tariff which may be higher or lower than the existing tariff of the distressed or failing utility or may allow a surcharge on both the acquired and existing customers. A separate tariff or rate filing must be made by the acquiring utility before the commission will consider any increase in rates or allow a surcharge to be placed on the acquiring utility’s acquired or existing ratepayers.

(d) As part of this proceeding, the acquiring utility shall submit to the commission for approval a plan, including a timetable for bringing the failing utility into compliance with applicable statutory and regulatory standards, including, but not limited to, plans for regionalization. The acquiring utility shall have previously obtained the approval of the plan from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Bureau for Public Health, as applicable, and those agencies are directed to use their full discretion in working towards long-term solutions that will support compliance. The failing utility shall cooperate with the acquiring utility in negotiating agreements with state and federal agencies, including, but not limited to, negotiation of hold harmless agreements, consent orders or enforcement moratoria during any period of remediation. In addition, the failing utility shall cooperate with the acquiring utility in obtaining the consent of the failing utility’s and the acquiring utility’s bondholder(s) to the acquisition. The acquiring utility must present to the commission as part of its financing plan, documentation on how the failing utility’s indebtedness will be paid or assumed.

(e) A nonprofit acquiring public utility may seek grant funding from the Distressed Utilities Account established pursuant to §31-15A-9(i) of this code to repair, maintain, and replace the distressed water and wastewater utilities facilities as needed. The reasonably and prudently incurred costs of the acquiring utility shall be recoverable in rates as provided in §24-2H-9 of this code.

(f) If the distressed or failing utility is a public service district, then the commission shall make a recommendation to the respective county commission(s) with regard to the acquisition of distressed or failing utilities as provided in §16-13A-2(a)(2) of this code. If the distressed or failing utility is a municipal corporation, then the commission shall make a recommendation to the respective municipal council with regard to the acquisition of distressed or failing utilities as provided in §8-12-17 of this code.

(g) The capable proximate utility may propose one or more of the cost recovery methods or incentives set forth in §24-2H-9 of this code as part of its petition for approval from the commission.


 

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