The state Utilities Commission is considering a proposal that would allow private water companies to raise rates in some cases without public hearings.
Under the new rule, utilities could implement rate hikes several times a year without public input, as long as they do not amount to an increase of more than 5 percent.
State lawmakers passed the new rule without opposition last session, but the Utilities Commission has to decide if it's in the public's interest before it goes into effect.
Commissioners are also considering a request from Aqua North Carolina for a rate increase of 19.5 percent. Aqua president and COO Tom Roberts says the proposal would ease the burden of larger increases.
"These incremental rate increases are much more palatable to the customers, because it's an incremental rate increase as opposed to a discussion about a 19-percent rate increase," Roberts says.
"It has all the same oversight and is being used in a number of states. We think it's both good for the customer and also good for the utility."
Critics of the rule change say the public should be able to comment on the record every time a utility increases its rates. The Utilities Commission opens a series of public meetings about the proposal Thursday in Raleigh.