HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has moved to protect the health, safety and welfare of customers of the North Heidelberg Sewer Company (NHSC) who are faced with the unauthorized termination of wastewater service because of NHSC’s long-standing payment arrearages for electric service used to operate the NHSC treatment plant. NHSC is a small wastewater company serving approximately 270 residents and businesses in northern Berks County.
Section 529 of the Public Utility Code authorizes the PUC to consider whether a capable public utility should acquire a small wastewater utility like NHSC after proceedings examine whether the small company can provide safe, adequate, and reasonably continuous utility service to its customers at just and reasonable rates.
In March 2017 the PUC issued an Emergency Order, directing NHSC to pay its current and past-due bills for electric service, while also prohibiting Met-Ed from terminating service to NHSC without prior approval from the Commission. Following that emergency action, the Commission approved an October 2017 Order that included payment arrangements that, if followed, would have addressed the arrearage owed by NHSC – but NHSC has failed to comply with that Order and the balance-owed has continued to grow.
Based on numerous concerns that have been identified, the PUC’s Bureau of Audits and Bureau of Technical Utility Services have recommended that the Commission take immediate action to protect the interest of NHSC customers and the public.
The Commission’s Order appoints Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater Company (Aqua or Receiver) to act as a receiver for NHSC on an interim basis, beginning on March 5,2018 and continuing through the Section 529 proceedings, to ensure the continued safe operation of that system until a competent provider can be identified.
The Order requires NHSC to turn over all assets, books, records, accounts, to the receiver no later than Feb. 20, 2018, and any assets or property used and useful in the provision of wastewater service no later than March 5, 2018. Additionally, NHSC owners and employees are directed to provide full and unconditional cooperation with the orderly transition of operations, management and oversight to the Receiver.
Moving forward, the Receiver will operate the North Heidelberg wastewater system until a full investigation can be conducted to determine if the Commission should order a capable public utility to acquire NHSC. The PUC’s Bureau of Audits has also been ordered to perform a forensic review of the books and records of NHSC and all affiliated entities, and to make that report public.
Since May 2010, NHSC has accumulated approximately $193,000 in past-due bills for electric service from Metropolitan Edison Company (Met-Ed), and has failed to pay for accurate and lawful electric charges over the course of many years.
In addition to its continued accumulation of arrearages for electric service, NHSC has failed to respond to data requests from the PUC concerning its current operations and financial matters. NHSC has also failed to file required annual reports with the Commission for the years from 2012 to 2016 and has an outstanding balance of $2,970 for Commission assessments due in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
A PUC review of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) records shows that NHSC was cited for several violations of environmental law over the past four years, including the discharge of raw sewage and improper sampling.
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Docket No.: M-2018-2645983