Customers, state legislature to vote on authorization of company merging Harrisville Water & Pascoag Utility

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BURRILLVILLE – The proposed merger of the Harrisville Fire District Water Department and the Pascoag Utility District is moving forward, with legislation authorizing the change drafted by members of the General Assembly, and a launch date scheduled for January 1, 2025.

The new entity would own and operate the current electric distribution system in Pascoag and Harrisville, and upon completion of the merger, also own and operate the water production and distribution system in the villages of Harrisville, Pascoag and parts of Oakland.

If ultimately approved by customers, it will be named the Clear River Electric and Water District – or CREW.

In a release this week, PUD Chairman Albert Palmisciano and HFD Operating Committee Chairman Brayton Round noted that significant progress has been made in the effort, first announced last year.

“This proposed merger makes sense in so many ways,” the chairmen noted. “Water production and distribution systems, in particular, are facing an increasingly complex world in regards to operations and regulatory compliance. Bringing the companies together will allow much more efficient operating processes, compliance requirements, and the search for new water supplies to secure potable water long into the future for all of our joint customers in Burrillville.”  

The proponents note that electric operations in Pascoag and Harrisville were brought together in 1957 for the same reasons, and it now makes sense to bring all electric and water operations under one roof, with one board of utility commissioners, one management and operations team, and with the right of all utility customers to have a vote in the future of the new company. 

“Both teams have always strived to provide the best service to their customer base, and have always thought of themselves as being, ‘consumer owned entities,’ there to serve their customers in the most efficient manner,” a release noted.

Recent progress towards the merger goal has included a unanimous vote in favor of the initiative by the boards of each entity, as well as confirmation of the new name. A sample logo was created for the entity that embraces the themes of the local Clear River, symbolizing water and the sun, symbolizing electricity. 

“We will look to refine the logo once we know that our customers support the creation of this new electric and water district,” the chairmen noted.

Public information sessions are slated to begin this month and/or early April to be followed by voting by customers of both the Harrisville Fire District and the Pascoag Utility District. The groups have commissioned a cost-of-service and rate study in hopes to provide customers information on the financial aspects of combining the two utilities. While rates are initially expected to be slightly higher for some customers, the merger is expected to derive financial and operational efficiencies, and proponents note that any increase will be less than if the two entities remained separate.

The merger team has already drafted a new charter, and recently received a draft legislation from the Rhode Island General Assembly based upon it, needed to officially separate the water department from the fire district in Harrisville, and to combine the water and electric departments of both Harrisville and Pascoag into the new Clear River Electric and Water District. If the merger is first approved by customers, the state legislature is expected to vote on the issue in their 2024 session, which ends in June, with a planned implementation date for the new company on January 1, 2025.

A new 7-member board of utility commissioners is expected to govern CREW, to include three commissioners from each existing board, and a 7th member to be voted on by the new and expanded customer/member base in late 2024.  Thereafter, all expiring terms of the commissioners would be voted on by the expanded customer base.

“This merger will bring together two great districts that have worked closely and cooperatively together for many years,” noted the chairmen.

Those with questions about the effort are asked to call PUD General Manager Michael Kirkwood at (401) 568-2459.

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