Water utility rates around the country are on the rise, thanks in part to a severe drought in the southwestern United States.

But Beckley Water Co. customers can look forward to more expensive tap water rates, as well. The company currently has a request for a rate change before the Public Service Commission.

Beckley Water’s 22,815 customers, both residential and commercial, will see about a 20 percent increase in water rates if the PSC approves the change.

In real numbers that means a minimum usage residential bill would go up $3.14, while commercial customers would see a minimum increase of nearly $30. Those rates climb according to usage; a customer using 4,500 gallons would see a bill of $40.12.

Industrial water rates would rise to $149.11 if the increase is approved. As with residential and commercial customers, tiers for industrial users end with 250,000 gallons a month, which would cost $1,230.96.

PSC Director of Communications Susan Small said that water rates, as with all utilities, are based on the cost of service. Small said utility companies file financial documentation to support a rate increase, then the PSC determines what is reasonable based on the utility’s debt service and the age of its equipment, among other things.

“Every rate increase request is thoroughly examined and investigated,” Small said.

According to the PSC’s website, Beckley Water Co., which is privately owned, has a utility plant value of more than $62 million, and operating revenues of more than $11.6 million.

The company asked for the rates to go into effect this past May, but the PSC has suspended the rate increase until February 2015, and has scheduled a public hearing for October to get input on any rate increase.

Beckley Water’s rates went up 36 percent for residential customers using 4,500 gallons a month from the winter of 2010-11 to the same time the next year, according to the PSC’s Consumer Advocate Division (CAD).

Beckley Water’s rates, both current and proposed, are near the lower end of municipal water rates.

The lowest in the state is Marianna Public Service District in Wyoming County where the cost of 4,500 gallons of water is $2, according to the PSC’s website. Marianna PSD has 13 customers, the website said.

Alpine Lake Public Utility in Preston County has the most expensive rates at $122.63 per 4,500 gallons, the PSC website says. Alpine Lake is also privately owned.

As a whole, overall utility rates in West Virginia decreased an average of 2 percent, according to the CAD; however, that is due in large part to the low price of natural gas. The cost of all other utilities went up, the CAD report said.

Beckley Water’s legal advertisement that ran in The Register-Herald said the rate increase would produce additional revenue of more than $2.2 million for the company.

A representative of Beckley Water Co. did not return a telephone call asking for comment Monday.

— E-mail: ppritt@register-herald.com

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