By PSC Chairman Charlotte Lane
Leaking and weakened water and sewerage lines. Aging and crumbling water and wastewater plants run by utilities with no financial ability to fund critically needed repairs or replace equipment. Areas without public water or sewer service. Aging gas pipelines. Frequent electric outages due to aging equipment and power lines. Insufficient internet service. At least 258,000 West Virginians without access to broadband. What do all these problems have in common? A lack of low-cost funding and grant funds.
The good news is that, thanks to the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act recently passed by Congress, around $6 billion will be heading to West Virginia over the next five years for a once in a lifetime opportunity to address and solve the many gaps in our infrastructure systems.
The Public Service Commission has been assisting distressed and failing water and sewer utilities through a law recently passed by the Legislature. However, getting a stronger neighboring utility to take over a failing one doesn’t always solve all the problems. Repairs and system upgrades cost money and can add significantly to utility rates. That’s why we are so excited to learn the infrastructure bill includes over $475 million to upgrade, repair and replace drinking water and sewer systems. The Commission will continue to identify utilities most in need of critical upgrades and government grant funding and work with the utilities, funding agencies and other governmental agencies to assure that our troubled water and sewer systems receive all available funds. We will also work to create the necessary intra-utility partnerships, public and private, that will qualify for maximum infrastructure funding.
West Virginia utility companies will be eligible for $5 billion to shore up the electric grid, enabling them to provide more reliable electric utility service during extreme weather events and to provide restoration of service more quickly when outages occur.
West Virginians learned firsthand during the COVID-19 pandemic the importance of broadband connectivity. In order to support our educational, medical and business needs, reliable broadband is essential. The Infrastructure Act will provide around $600 million to expand broadband across the state in rural and urban areas. The Commission has been focusing on the customer service and reliability of broadband providers, and we look forward to working with providers and state economic development agencies to obtain our share of these new funds. Even with federal funding, high-quality internet service will not be free. Low-income families also deserve fast, high-quality broadband service and the Affordability Connectivity Benefit provisions enacted by Congress will provide financial support for the 543,000 low-income West Virginians so they too can acquire broadband service.
The Infrastructure Act will help West Virginia utilities improve their systems, give the state the ability to address our infrastructure needs and help build a stronger, brighter future for our citizens while creating good paying jobs and growing the economy.