Shepherd Snyder Published

Jefferson County Citizens Discuss Water Utility Buyout, Solar Farm At Public Hearings

Jefferson County residents prepare for the first of two public hearings arranged by the state's Public Service Commission Monday evening at the Jefferson County Courthouse.
Jefferson County residents prepare for the first of two public hearings arranged by the state's Public Service Commission Monday evening at the Jefferson County Courthouse.
Shepherd Snyder/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Updated on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023 at 10:19 a.m.; Thursday, Feb. 9 2023 at 4:00 p.m.

Jefferson County citizens voiced their opinions at a Public Service Commission hearing Monday on a potential buyout that would see West Virginia American Water purchase four local water and sewer utilities. 

These include Jefferson Utilities, Inc., Valley Water and Sewer Services, East Jefferson Sewer Services and Shenandoah Junction Public Sewer, Inc.

PSC staff estimated the buyout would increase local rates by as much as 47 percent for water and 56 percent for sewer. 

The overwhelming opinion of the locals present at the hearing, including Shepherdstown resident Michael Keefe, was that such an increase would be unfair to customers.

“We’re concerned that if the rate increases go up so much, that many residents in the lower income would not be able to pay for it, or we’ll have to cut back so much on water usage that it’s detrimental to their family plan and sanitation,” Keefe said.

Previously, PSC staff recommended that West Virginia American Water establish a five-year schedule to slowly bring customers’ rates in line with the company’s existing rates.

“I think even doing these rates over time, as what was suggested, I don’t believe in that, because then it just couches for more,” fellow local and ratepayer advocate Jacquelyn Milliron said. “It hides the fact that more rate increases just get put on top.”

Those in favor of the buyout argued that as a larger company, West Virginia American Water has more resources and infrastructure to help better serve the area.

“We understand that customers are facing a lot of different situations and circumstances in their own lives,” said Megan Hannah, Senior Manager of Government and External Affairs for the company. “We do want to make sure customers know that there are many, many customer assistance programs that we offer to help those that are struggling, those that are in need. And that is not a program that’s offered currently by JUI or any other utility here in the Eastern Panhandle.”

From Water To Watts

Also discussed in a separate PSC hearing earlier in the day was the creation of a 99 megawatt solar energy farm owned by Rippon Energy on an estimated 740 to 860 acres of land in the county. Rippon cited a $125 million investment in the project that would go towards creating an in-state workforce, and that ratepayers would not be affected as a result.

Residents in favor cited solar as a renewable energy source, with some local farmers who had volunteered their land to be used saying they should have a voice in what they use their land for. Residents opposed were concerned about the efficiency of solar energy, the loss of farmland and potential waste from the facility going into the nearby Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.

The Public Service Commission held an evidentiary hearing for the West Virginia American Water case Jan. 25 and plans to hold a similar hearing for the solar farm facility Feb. 23. As of the Monday hearing, no statutory deadline for either case’s final decision has been scheduled.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to clarify the statuses and dates of both cases’ evidentiary hearings and the projected amount of acres the solar farm will be built upon.