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DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Certain statements in this Annual Report on Form 10-K, or this Annual Report are forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 that are made based upon, among other things, our current assumptions, expectations, plans, and beliefs concerning future events and their potential effect on us. These forward-looking statements involve risks, uncertainties and other factors, many of which are outside our control that may cause our actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from any future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by these forward-looking statements. In some cases you can identify forward-looking statements where statements are preceded by, followed by or include the words “believes,” “expects,” “estimates”, “anticipates,” “plans,” “future,” “potential,” “probably,” “predictions,” “intends,” “will,” “continue,” “in the event” or the negative of such terms or similar expressions. Please refer to the Summary in Item 1A – Risk Factors in this Annual Report for a description of the types of Forward-looking statements in this Annual Report.
Given these risks and uncertainties, you should not place undue reliance on any forward-looking statements. You should read this Annual Report completely and with the understanding that our actual future results, performance and achievements may be materially different from what we expect. These forward-looking statements represent assumptions, expectations, plans, and beliefs only as of the date of this Annual Report. Except for our ongoing obligations to disclose certain information under the federal securities laws, we are not obligated, and assume no obligation, to update these forward-looking statements, even though our situation may change in the future. For further information or other factors which could affect our financial results and such forward-looking statements, see Item 1A – Risk Factors. We qualify all of our forward-looking statements by these cautionary statements.
Essential Utilities, Inc. (referred to as “Essential Utilities”, the “Company”, “we”, “us”, or “our”), a Pennsylvania corporation, is the holding company for regulated utilities providing water, wastewater, or natural gas services to an estimated five million people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Illinois, North Carolina, New Jersey, Indiana, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky under the Aqua and Peoples brands. One of our largest operating subsidiaries, is Aqua Pennsylvania, Inc., (“Aqua Pennsylvania”) accounted for approximately 55% of operating revenues and approximately 67% of income for our Regulated Water segment in 2020. As of December 31, 2020, Aqua Pennsylvania provided water or wastewater services to approximately one-half of the total number of water and wastewater customers we serve. Aqua Pennsylvania’s service territory is located in the suburban areas in counties north and west of the City of Philadelphia and in 27 other counties in Pennsylvania. Our other regulated water utility subsidiaries provide similar services in seven additional states. Additionally, pursuant to the Company’ growth strategy, commencing on March 16, 2020 with the completion of the Peoples Gas Acquisition, the Company began to provide natural gas distribution services to customers in western Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Approximately 93% of the total number of natural gas utility customers we serve are in western Pennsylvania. Lastly, the Company’s market-based activities are conducted through Aqua Infrastructure, LLC and Aqua Resources Inc., and certain other non-regulated subsidiaries of Peoples. Prior to our October 30, 2020 sale of our investment in a joint venture, Aqua Infrastructure provided non-utility raw water supply services for firms in the natural gas drilling industry. Following the October 30, 2020 closing, Aqua Infrastructure does not provide any services to the natural gas drilling industry. Aqua Resources offers, through a third-party, water and sewer line protection solutions and repair services to households.
Essential Utilities, which prior to its name change on February 3, 2020 was known as Aqua America, Inc., was formed in 1968 as a holding company for its primary subsidiary, Aqua Pennsylvania, formerly known as Philadelphia Suburban Water Company. In the early 1990s, we embarked on a growth through acquisition strategy. Our most significant transactions to date have been the merger with Consumers Water Company in 1999, the acquisition of the regulated water and wastewater operations of AquaSource, Inc. in 2003, the acquisition of Heater Utilities, Inc. in 2004, the acquisition of American Water Works Company, Inc.’s regulated water and wastewater operations in Ohio in 2012, and the Peoples Gas
Acquisition in 2020. For many years, starting in the early 1990s, our business strategy was primarily directed toward the regulated water and wastewater utility industry, where we have more than quadrupled the number of regulated customers we serve, and have extended our regulated operations from southeastern Pennsylvania to include our current regulated utility operations throughout Pennsylvania and in seven additional states. During 2010 through 2013, we sold our utility operations in six states, pursuant to a portfolio rationalization strategy to focus our operations in areas where we have critical mass and economic growth potential. Currently, the Company seeks to acquire businesses in the U.S. regulated sector, which includes water and wastewater utilities and other regulated utilities, and to pursue growth ventures in market-based activities, such as infrastructure opportunities that are supplementary and complementary to our regulated utility businesses. On March 16, 2020, we completed our acquisition of a natural gas distribution company consisting of Peoples Natural Gas Company LLC, Peoples Gas Company LLC, Peoples Gas West Virginia, Inc., Peoples Gas Kentucky, Inc., and Delta Natural Gas Company Inc., expanding the Company’s regulated utility business to include natural gas distribution. This acquisition is referred to as the “Peoples Gas Acquisition,” and collectively these businesses are referred to as “Peoples.” Peoples serves approximately 750,000 gas utility customers in western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky.
The descriptions of our business and operations, financial results, and operational data included in this Annual Report do not include historical results for Peoples prior to the acquisition date of March 16, 2020.
The following table reports our operating revenues, by principal state, for our Regulated Water, which includes both water and wastewater utility services, and Regulated Natural Gas segments, and Other and eliminations for the year ended December 31, 2020:
Operating Revenues (000's)
Operating Revenues (%)
Other states (1)
Regulated Water segment total
Other states (2)
Regulated Natural Gas segment total
Other and eliminations
(1)Includes our water operating subsidiaries in the following states: New Jersey, Indiana, and Virginia.
(2)Includes our natural gas operating subsidiaries in West Virginia and Kentucky.
The Company has identified twelve operating segments and has two reportable segments named the Regulated Water segment and Regulated Natural Gas segment. The Regulated Water segment is comprised of eight operating segments for our water and wastewater regulated utility companies, aligned with the states where we provide these services. These operating segments are aggregated into one reportable segment since each of the Company’s operating segments has the following similarities: economic characteristics, nature of services, production processes, customers, water distribution or wastewater collection methods, and the nature of the regulatory environment. The Regulated Natural Gas segment is comprised of one operating segment representing natural gas utility companies, acquired in the Peoples Gas Acquisition, for which the Company provides natural gas distribution services. In addition to the Company’s two reportable segments, the Company includes three of its operating segments in “Other.” These businesses represent our non-regulated natural gas operations, Aqua Resources, and Aqua Infrastructure, which are not quantitatively significant to be reportable and
therefore are included as a component of “Other,” in addition to corporate costs that have not been allocated to the Regulated Water and Regulated Natural Gas segments, because they would not be recoverable as a cost of utility service, and intersegment eliminations. Information concerning revenues, net income, identifiable assets and related financial information for the Regulated Water and Regulated Natural Gas segments and Other and eliminations for 2020, 2019, and 2018, is set forth in Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations and in Note 18 – Segment Information in the Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements which is contained in Item 8 of this Annual Report.
The following table summarizes our operating revenues, by utility customer class, for the Regulated Water and Regulated Natural Gas segments and Other and eliminations for the year ended December 31, 2020:
Operating Revenues (000's)
Operating Revenues (%)
Customer rate credits
Regulated Water segment total
Customer rate credits
Regulated Natural Gas segment total
Other and eliminations
The Company granted one-time customer rate credits of $23,004,000 in 2020 to its natural gas, water and wastewater utility customers in Pennsylvania under a commitment associated with the approval of the Peoples Gas Acquisition by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. Our water utility customer base is diversified among residential water, commercial water, fire protection, industrial water, other water, wastewater customers, and other utility customers (consisting of contracted services that are associated with the utility operations). Residential water and wastewater customers make up the largest component of our water utility customer base, with these customers representing approximately 71%, 69%, and 67%, of our water and wastewater revenues for 2020, 2019, and 2018, respectively. Substantially all of our water utility customers are metered, which allows us to measure and bill for our customers’ water consumption. Water consumption per customer is affected by local weather conditions during the year, especially during late spring, summer, and early fall. In general, during these seasons, an extended period of dry weather increases consumption, while above average rainfall decreases consumption. Also, an increase in the average temperature generally causes an increase in water consumption. On occasion, abnormally dry weather in our service areas can result in governmental authorities declaring drought warnings and imposing water use restrictions in the affected areas, which could reduce water consumption. See “Business – Water Utility Supplies, and Facilities and Wastewater Utility Facilities” for a discussion of water use restrictions that may impact water consumption during abnormally dry weather. The geographic diversity of our water utility customer base reduces the effect of our exposure to extreme or unusual weather conditions in any one area of our service territory. Water usage is also affected by changing consumption
patterns by our customers, resulting from such causes as increased water conservation and the installation of water saving devices and appliances that can result in decreased water usage. It is estimated that in the event we experience a 0.50% decrease in residential water consumption it would result in a decrease in annual residential water revenue of approximately $2,800,000 and would likely be partially offset by a reduction in incremental water production expenses such as chemicals and power.
Our natural gas utility customer base is diversified among residential gas, commercial gas, industrial gas, gas transportation, and other utility (consisting of miscellaneous service revenue from gas distribution operations; gas processing and handling revenue; sales of natural gas at market-based rates and contracted fixed prices; sales of gas purchased from third parties; and other gas marketing activities). The Regulated Natural Gas segment operating revenues are reported for the period since closing on the Peoples Gas Acquisition on March 16, 2020. Substantially all of our natural gas utility customers are metered, which allows to measure and bill for our customers’ natural gas usage. Natural gas usage per customer is affected by local weather conditions during the year, especially during the fall, winter, and early spring. These patterns reflect the higher demand for natural gas for heating purposes during the colder months.
Our growth in revenues over the past five years is primarily a result of the 2020 Peoples Gas Acquisition, increases in water and wastewater rates and customer growth. See Economic Regulation for a discussion of water, wastewater and natural gas rates. The increase in our utility customer base has been due to customers added through acquisitions, partnerships with developers, and organic growth (excluding dispositions) as shown below:
Utility Customer Growth Rate
In 2020, 2019, and 2018, our customer count increased by 772,099, 21,108, and 22,741 customers, respectively, primarily due to the addition of approximately 750,000 natural gas utility customers from the Peoples Gas Acquisition, water and wastewater utility systems that we acquired, and organic growth. Overall, for the five year period of 2016 through 2020, our utility customer base, adjusted to exclude customers associated with utility system dispositions, increased at an annual compound rate of 13.4%. During the five year period ended December 31, 2020, our utility customer base including customers associated with utility system acquisitions and dispositions increased from 957,866 at January 1, 2016 to 1,798,803 at December 31, 2020.
Acquisitions and Other Growth Ventures
We believe that acquisitions will continue to be an important source of customer growth for us. We intend to continue to pursue acquisitions of government-owned and regulated water and wastewater systems that provide services in areas near our existing service territories or in new service areas. We engage in continuing activities with respect to potential acquisitions, including calling on prospective sellers, performing analyses of and due diligence on acquisition candidates, making preliminary acquisition proposals, and negotiating the terms of potential acquisitions. Further, we are also seeking other potential business opportunities, including but not limited to, partnering with public and regulated utilities to invest in infrastructure projects, growing our market-based activities by acquiring businesses that provide water and wastewater or other utility-related services, and investing in infrastructure projects.
Based on the 2019 U.S. Census American Housing Survey, approximately 89% of the U.S. population obtains its water from public or private water utility systems, and 11% of the U.S. population obtains its water from individual wells. With approximately 50,000 public or private water systems in the U.S. (81% of which serve less than 3,300 customers), the water industry is the most fragmented of the major utility industries (telephone, natural gas, electric, water and wastewater). The majority of these community water systems are government-owned. The nation’s water systems range in size from large government-owned systems, such as the New York City water system, which serves approximately 8.3 million people, to small systems, where a few customers share a common well. In the states where we operate regulated water utilities, we believe there are approximately 14,000 public or private water utility systems of widely-varying size, with the majority of the population being served by government-owned water systems.
Although not as fragmented as the water industry, the wastewater industry in the U.S. also presents opportunities for consolidation. Based on the 2019 U.S. Census American Housing Survey, approximately 84% of the U.S. population relies on public or private sewer systems, and 16% of the U.S. population relies on septic tank, cesspool or other sewer options. A majority of wastewater facilities are government-owned rather than regulated utilities. In the states where we operate regulated water utilities, we believe there are approximately 4,000 wastewater facilities in operation, with the majority of the population being served by government-owned wastewater systems.
Because of the fragmented nature of the water and wastewater utility industries, we believe there are many potential water and wastewater system acquisition candidates throughout the U.S. We believe the factors driving consolidation of these systems are:
the benefits of economies of scale;
the increasing cost and complexity of environmental regulations;
the need for substantial capital investment;
the need for technical and managerial expertise;
the desire to improve water quality and service;
limited access to cost-effective financing;
the monetizing of public assets to support, in some cases, the declining financial condition of municipalities; and
the use of system sale proceeds by a municipality to accomplish other public purposes.
We are actively exploring opportunities to expand our utility operations through acquisitions or other growth ventures. During the five-year period ended December 31, 2020, we expanded our utility operations by completing 46 acquisitions of water or wastewater utilities or other growth ventures. Additionally, in March 2020, we completed our acquisition of Peoples, which expanded the Company’s regulated utility business to include natural gas distribution.
Our water utility operations obtain their water supplies from surface water sources, underground aquifers, and water purchased from other water suppliers. Our water supplies are primarily self-supplied and processed at twenty-two surface water treatment plants located in four states, and numerous well stations located in the states in which we conduct business. Approximately 5.9% of our water supplies are provided through water purchased from other water suppliers. It is our policy to obtain and maintain the permits necessary to obtain the water we distribute.
We believe that the capacities of our sources of supply, and our water treatment, pumping and distribution facilities, are generally sufficient to meet the present requirements of our customers under normal conditions. We plan system improvements and additions to capacity in response to normal replacement and renewal needs, changing regulatory standards, changing patterns of consumption, and increased demand from customer growth. The various state utility commissions have generally recognized the operating and capital costs associated with these improvements in setting water and wastewater rates.
On occasion, drought warnings and water use restrictions are issued by governmental authorities for portions of our service territories in response to extended periods of dry weather conditions. The timing and duration of the warnings and restrictions can have an impact on our water revenues and net income. In general, water consumption in the summer months is more affected by drought warnings and restrictions because discretionary and recreational use of water is at its highest during the summer months. At other times of the year, warnings and restrictions generally have less of an effect on water consumption. Portions of our northern and central Texas service areas have conservation-based water restrictions. Drought warnings and watches result in the public being asked to voluntarily reduce water consumption.
We believe that our wastewater treatment facilities are generally adequate to meet the present requirements of our customers under normal conditions. Additionally, we own several wastewater collection systems that convey the wastewater to municipally-owned facilities for treatment. Changes in regulatory requirements can be reflected in revised permit limits and conditions when permits are renewed, typically on a five year cycle, or when treatment capacity is expanded. Capital improvements are planned and budgeted to meet normal replacement and renewal needs, anticipated
changes in regulations, needs for increased capacity related to projected growth, and to reduce inflow and infiltration to collection systems. The various state utility commissions have generally recognized the operating and capital costs associated with these improvements in setting wastewater rates for current and new customers. It is our policy to obtain and maintain the permits necessary for the treatment of the wastewater that we return to the environment.
Our natural gas supply strategy is to ensure a dependable gas supply that is economically priced and which is available for delivery when needed. We purchase natural gas from intrastate, interstate and local sources, and transport natural gas supplies through various intrastate and interstate pipelines under contracts with remaining terms, including extensions, varying from one month to fifteen years. We anticipate that these gas supply and transportation contracts will be renewed or replaced prior to their expiration.
The regulations of the states in which we operate natural gas utilities allow us to pass through changes in the cost of natural gas to our customers under purchased gas adjustment provisions in our tariffs. Depending upon the jurisdiction, the purchased gas adjustment factors are updated periodically, ranging from quarterly to annually. The changes in the cost of gas billed to customers are subject to review by the applicable regulatory bodies.
We use various third-party storage services or owned natural gas storage facilities to meet peak-day requirements and to manage the daily changes in demand due to changes in weather.
We own and operate underground natural gas storage facilities with capacity of 10.3 billion cubic feet (“Bcf”). Total working capacity is 5.0 Bcf for use during the heating season and a maximum daily withdrawal rate of 109.5 million cubic feet (“MMcf”). Additionally, we have contracted for off-system storage from interstate pipelines. The total amount of off-system storage under contract is 35.6 Bcf with a maximum daily withdrawal rate of 589.3 MMcf.
On an ongoing basis, we enter into contracts to provide sufficient supplies and pipeline capacity to meet our customers’ natural gas requirements. However, it is possible for limited service disruptions to occur from time to time due to weather conditions, transportation constraints and other events. As a result of these factors, supplies of natural gas may become unavailable from time to time, or prices may increase rapidly in response to temporary supply constraints or other factors. We enter into firm agreements with suppliers, including major producers and marketers, intended to provide flexibility to meet the temperature sensitive needs of its customers. In Pennsylvania, our distribution system is connected to six interstate pipelines, where we maintain capacity we believe is sufficient to meet our customers’ gas requirements. In Kentucky, our distribution system is connected to four interstate pipelines, where we maintain capacity we believe is sufficient to meet our customers’ gas requirements. In West Virginia, our distribution system is connected to one interstate pipeline, as well as local production, where we maintain capacity we believe is sufficient to meet our customers’ gas requirements.
Natural Gas Gathering
Our Pennsylvania Regulated Natural Gas service territory is situated in the Marcellus Shale production region. Approximately 31% of the natural gas supply on the system is from locally produced gas, which we gather and transport into our distribution system. Our gathering system is regulated by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission which includes various safety, environmental and, in some circumstances, anti-discrimination requirements, and in some instances complaint-based rate regulation. Our gathering operations may be subject to ratable take and common purchaser statutes in the states in which we operate.
Our Regulated Natural Gas gathering operations could be adversely affected should they be subject in the future to the application of state or federal regulation of rates and services. Our gathering operations could also be subject to additional safety and operational regulations relating to the design, construction, testing, operation, replacement and maintenance of gathering facilities. We cannot predict what effect, if any, such changes might have on our operations, but our Regulated Natural Gas segment could be required to incur additional capital expenditures and increased costs depending on future legislative and regulatory changes.
Most of our utility operations are subject to regulation by their respective state utility commissions, which have broad administrative power and authority to regulate billing rates, determine franchise areas and conditions of service, approve acquisitions and authorize the issuance of securities. The utility commissions also establish uniform systems of accounts and approve the terms of contracts with affiliates and customers, business combinations with other utility systems, and loans and other financings. The policies of the utility commissions often differ from state to state, and may change over time. A small number of our water and wastewater utility operations are subject to rate regulation by county or city governments. The profitability of our utility operations is influenced to a great extent by the timeliness and adequacy of rate allowances we are granted by the respective utility commissions or authorities in the various states in which we operate.
Rate Case Management Capability – We maintain a rate case management capability, the objective of which is to provide that the tariffs of our utility operations reflect, to the extent practicable, the timely recovery of increases in costs of operations, capital expenditures, interest expense, taxes, energy, materials, and compliance with environmental regulations. We file rate increase requests to recover and earn a fair return on the infrastructure investments that we make in improving or replacing our facilities and to recover expense increases. In the states in which we operate, we are primarily subject to economic regulation by the following state utility commissions:
Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission
Public Utilities Commission of Ohio
North Carolina Utilities Commission
Public Utility Commission of Texas
Illinois Commerce Commission
New Jersey Board of Public Utilities
Public Service Commission of Kentucky
Virginia State Corporation Commission
Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission
Public Service Commission of West Virginia
Our water and wastewater operations are comprised of 46 rate divisions, and our natural gas operations are comprised of five rate divisions. Each of our utility rate divisions require a separate rate filing for the evaluation of the cost of service, including the recovery of investments, in connection with the establishment of rates for that rate division. When feasible and beneficial to our utility customers, we will seek approval from the applicable state regulatory commission to consolidate rate divisions to achieve a more even distribution of costs over a large customer base. All of the states in which we operate permit us to file a revenue requirement for some form of consolidated rates for all, or some of the rate divisions in that state.
In Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky, we may bill our utility customers, in certain circumstances, in accordance with a rate filing that is pending before the respective regulatory commission, which would allow for interim rates. As of December 31, 2020, we have no billings under interim rate arrangements for rate case filings in progress. Furthermore, some utility commissions authorize the use of expense deferrals and amortization in order to provide for an impact on our operating income by an amount that approximates the requested amount in a rate request. In these states, the additional revenue billed and collected prior to the final regulatory commission ruling is subject to refund to customers based on the outcome of the ruling. The revenue recognized and the expenses deferred by us reflect an estimate as to the final outcome of the ruling. If the request is denied completely or in part, we could be required to refund to customers some or all of the revenue billed to date and write-off some or all of the deferred expenses.
Revenue Surcharges – Seven states in which we operate water utilities, seven states in which we operate wastewater utilities, and two states in which we operate natural gas utilities permit us to add an infrastructure rehabilitation surcharge to their respective bills to offset the additional depreciation and capital costs associated with capital expenditures related to replacing and rehabilitating infrastructure systems. Without this surcharge, a utility absorbs all of the depreciation and capital costs of these projects between base rate increases. The gap between the time that a capital project is completed
and the recovery of its costs in rates is known as regulatory lag. This surcharge is intended to substantially reduce regulatory lag, which could act as a disincentive for utilities to rehabilitate their infrastructure. In addition, our subsidiaries in some states use a surcharge or credit on their bills to reflect changes in costs, such as changes in state tax rates, other taxes and purchased water costs, until such time as the new cost levels are incorporated into base rates.
Currently, New Jersey allows for an infrastructure rehabilitation surcharge for water utilities, while Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, and North Carolina allow for the use of an infrastructure rehabilitation surcharge for both water and wastewater utility systems. Additionally, Pennsylvania and Kentucky allow for the use of an infrastructure rehabilitation surcharge for natural gas utility systems. The infrastructure rehabilitation surcharge typically adjusts periodically based on additional qualified capital expenditures completed or anticipated in a future period, and is capped at a percentage of base rates, generally at 5% to 12.75%, and is reset to zero when new base rates that reflect the costs of those additions become effective or when a utility’s earnings exceed a regulatory benchmark. This surcharge provided revenues of $13,038,555 in 2020, $16,006,579 in 2019, and $31,835,811 in 2018.
In the majority of our natural gas service territories, the public utility commissions have authorized bare steel and cast-iron replacement programs. In Pennsylvania, we filed a Long-Term Infrastructure Replacement program with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission where we have committed to the replacement of bare steel and cast-iron pipe. On February 14, 2012, the Governor of Pennsylvania signed into law Act 11 of 2012, which provided a Distribution System Improvement Charge (“DSIC”) mechanism for certain utilities to recover costs related to repair, replacement or improvement of eligible distribution property that has not previously been reflected in rates or rate base. Through this Pennsylvania DSIC, subject to an earnings test, a utility may recover the fixed costs of eligible infrastructure incurred during the three months ended one month prior to the effective date of the charge, thereby reducing the historical regulatory lag associated with cost recovery through the traditional rate-making process. In Kentucky, we have a pipe replacement program tariff, which allows adjustment of regulated rates annually to earn a return on capital expenditures incurred subsequent to our last rate case which are associated with the replacement of bare steel and vintage plastic pipe.
Gas costs incurred to serve our natural gas customers represent a significant operating expense. Our regulated natural gas rates, in all jurisdictions, contain a Purchased Gas Adjustment (“PGA”), which is reflected in our tariffs. The PGA allows us to timely charge for changes in the cost of purchased gas, inclusive of unaccounted for gas expense based on actual experience. PGA procedures involve periodic filings and hearings before the state regulatory commissions to establish price adjustments for a designated future period. The procedures also provide for inclusion in later periods of any variances between actual recoveries representing the estimated costs and actual costs incurred. The PGA is subject to periodic review and audit by the state regulatory commissions who also have the authority to disallow previously incurred costs.
In Pennsylvania, the gas cost component of uncollectible accounts expense, gas procurement costs and certain costs to maintain a supplier choice program, where customers can elect their natural gas supplier, are recovered by mechanisms outside of typical base rate recovery. Additionally, in Pennsylvania, we recover the costs related to universal service programs, whereby customers who meet certain income guidelines receive assistance toward paying their monthly bill, weatherization services and other programs. In Kentucky, the gas cost component of uncollectible accounts expense is recovered by a recovery mechanism outside of base rate recovery.
Income Tax Accounting Change – In December 2012, Aqua Pennsylvania adopted an income tax accounting change, implemented on Essential Utilities’ 2012 federal income tax return, which was filed in September 2013. This accounting change allows a tax deduction for qualifying utility asset improvements that were formerly capitalized for tax purposes, and was implemented in response to a June 2012 rate order issued by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. The Pennsylvania rate order requires use of the flow-through method of income tax benefits which results in a reduction in current income tax expense as a result of the recognition of income tax benefits resulting from the accounting change. In February 2019, the Company filed a settlement for this base rate case. Incremental rates from this settlement of approximately $47,000,000 went into effect in May 2019. The rate case settlement agreement provides for $158,864,688 of income tax deductions, for water customers, annually, from the flow-through recognition of the Aqua Pennsylvania income tax accounting change, subject to a collar of $3,000,000 above or below.
On March 16, 2020, the Company completed the Peoples Gas Acquisition. On March 31, 2020, the Company changed the method of tax accounting for certain qualifying infrastructure investments at its Peoples Natural Gas subsidiary, its
largest natural gas subsidiary in Pennsylvania. This change allows a tax deduction for qualifying utility asset improvement costs that were formerly capitalized for tax purposes. The Company is performing an analysis to determine the ultimate amount of qualifying utility asset improvement costs eligible to be deducted under the IRS’s final tangible property regulations that will be reflected on its 2020 Federal Tax Return to be filed in October 2021. As a result, the Company has estimated its infrastructure investment at Peoples Natural Gas since the acquisition date that will qualify as a utility system repairs deduction for 2020. Consistent with the Company’s accounting for differences between book and tax expenditures for its Aqua Pennsylvania subsidiary, the Company is utilizing the flow-through method to account for this timing difference. In addition, the calculation to determine the income tax benefits for qualifying capital expenditures made prior to March 16, 2020 (“catch-up adjustment”) has been finalized. During 2020, the Company has recorded a regulatory liability for $160,655,000 for these income tax benefits, which will remain on the consolidated balance sheet pending regulatory guidance.
Fair Market Value Legislation – In April 2016, Pennsylvania enacted legislation allowing the public utility commission to utilize fair market value to set ratemaking rate base instead of the depreciated original cost of water or wastewater assets for certain qualifying municipal acquisitions. The legislation includes a process for engaging two independent utility valuation experts to perform appraisals that are filed with the public utility commission and then averaged and compared to the purchase price. The ratemaking rate base is the lower of the average of the appraisals or the purchase price and is subject to regulatory approval. Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Texas also have legislation that allows the use of fair market value under varying rules and circumstances. We believe that this legislation will encourage consolidation in the water and wastewater industry, providing municipalities with an option for exiting the business if they are dealing with challenges associated with their aging, deteriorating water and wastewater assets, do not have the expertise or technical capabilities to continue to comply with ever increasing environmental regulations or simply want to focus on other community priorities.
Revenue Stability Mechanisms – Revenue stability mechanisms separate the volume of water sold from our ability to meet our cost of service and infrastructure costs. These mechanisms allows us to recognize revenue based on a target amount established in the last rate case, and then record either a regulatory asset or liability based on the cumulative difference over time, which results in either a refund due to customers or a payment from customers. In Illinois, our operating subsidiary utilizes a revenue stability mechanism. Additionally, a weather-normalization adjustment (“WNA”) mechanism is in place for our natural gas customers served in Kentucky. The WNA serves to minimize the effects of weather on the Company’s results for its residential and small commercial natural gas customers. This regulatory mechanism adjusts revenues earned for the variance between actual and normal weather and can have either positive (warmer than normal) or negative (colder than normal) effects on revenues. Customer bills are adjusted in the December through April billing months, with rates adjusted for the difference between actual revenues and revenues calculated under this mechanism billed to the customers.
In general, we believe that Essential Utilities and its water, wastewater, and natural gas subsidiaries have valid authority, free from unduly burdensome restrictions, to enable us to carry on our business as presently conducted in the franchised or contracted areas we now serve. The rights to provide water, wastewater, or natural gas service to customers in a particular franchised service territory are generally non-exclusive, although the applicable utility commissions usually allow only one regulated utility to provide service to customers in a given area. In some instances, another water utility provides service to a separate area within the same political subdivision served by one of our subsidiaries. Therefore, as a regulated utility, there is little or no competition for the daily water, wastewater, and natural gas service we provide to our customers. Water and wastewater utilities may compete for the acquisition of other water and wastewater utilities or for acquiring new customers in new service territories. Competition for these acquisitions generally comes from nearby utilities, either other regulated utilities or municipal-owned utilities, and sometimes from strategic or financial purchasers seeking to enter or expand in the water and wastewater industry. Additionally, our larger natural gas customers may bypass gas distribution services by gaining distribution directly from interstate pipelines, other gas distributors or other energy sources. We compete for new service territories and the acquisition of other utilities on the following bases:
economies of scale;
our ability to provide quality water, wastewater, and natural gas service;
our existing infrastructure network;
our ability to perform infrastructure improvements;
our ability to comply with environmental, health, and safety regulations;
our technical, regulatory, and operational expertise;
our ability to access capital markets; and
our cost of capital.
The addition of new service territories and the acquisition of other utilities by regulated utilities such as by the Company are generally subject to review and approval by the applicable state utility commissions.
In a very small number of instances, in one of our southern states, where there are municipally-owned water or wastewater systems near our operating divisions, the municipally-owned system may either have water distribution or wastewater collection mains that are located adjacent to our division's mains or may construct new mains that parallel our mains. In these rare circumstances, the municipally-owned system may attempt to voluntarily offer service to customers who are connected to our mains, resulting in our mains becoming surplus or underutilized without compensation.
In the states where our water subsidiaries operate, it is possible that portions of our subsidiaries’ operations could be acquired by municipal governments by one or more of the following methods:
the right of purchase given or reserved by a municipality or political subdivision when the original franchise was granted; and
the right of purchase given or reserved under the law of the state in which the subsidiary was incorporated or from which it received its permit.
The price to be paid upon such an acquisition by the municipal government is usually determined in accordance with applicable law under eminent domain. In other instances, the price may be negotiated, fixed by appraisers selected by the parties or computed in accordance with a formula prescribed in the law of the state or in the particular franchise or charter. We believe that our operating subsidiaries would be entitled to fair market value for any assets that are condemned, and we believe the fair market value would be in excess of the book value for such assets.
Despite maintaining a program to monitor condemnation interests and activities that may affect us over time, one of our primary strategies continues to be to acquire additional water and wastewater systems, to maintain our existing systems where there is a business or a strategic benefit, and to actively oppose unilateral efforts by municipal governments to acquire any of our operations, particularly for less than the fair market value of our operations or where the municipal government seeks to acquire more than it is entitled to under the applicable law or agreement. On occasion, we may voluntarily agree to sell systems or portions of systems in order to help focus our efforts in areas where we have more critical mass and economies of scale or for other strategic reasons.
Provision of water and wastewater services is subject to regulation under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, and related state laws, and under federal and state regulations issued under these laws. These laws and regulations establish criteria and standards for drinking water and for wastewater discharges. In addition, we are subject to federal and state laws and other regulations relating to solid waste disposal, dam safety and other aspects of our operations. Capital expenditures and operating costs required as a result of water quality standards and environmental requirements have been traditionally recognized by state utility commissions as appropriate for inclusion in establishing rates.
From time to time, Essential Utilities has acquired, and may acquire, systems that have environmental compliance issues. Environmental compliance issues also arise in the course of normal operations or as a result of regulatory changes. Essential Utilities attempts to align capital budgeting and expenditures to address these issues in due course. We believe that the capital expenditures required to address outstanding environmental compliance issues have been budgeted in our
capital program and represent approximately $95,440,000, or approximately 3.8% of our expected total water and wastewater capital expenditures over the next five years. We are parties to agreements with regulatory agencies in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia under which we have committed to make improvements for environmental compliance. These agreements are intended to provide the regulators with assurance that problems covered by these agreements will be addressed, and the agreements generally provide protection from fines, penalties and other actions while corrective measures are being implemented. We are working with state environmental officials in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia to implement or amend regulatory agreements as necessary.
Our Regulated Natural Gas utility operations are subject to stringent and complex laws and regulations pertaining to the environment. As an owner or operator of natural gas pipelines, distribution systems and storage, and the facilities that support these systems, we must comply with these laws and regulations at the federal, state and local levels. Failure to comply with these laws and regulations may trigger a variety of administrative, civil and criminal enforcement measures, including the assessment of monetary penalties, the imposition of remedial actions and the issuance of orders enjoining future operations. Certain environmental statutes impose strict, joint and several liability for costs required to assess, clean up and restore sites where hazardous substances have been stored, disposed or released.
Safe Drinking Water Act - The Safe Drinking Water Act establishes criteria and procedures for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to develop national quality standards for drinking water. Regulations issued pursuant to the Safe Drinking Water Act set standards regarding the amount of microbial and chemical contaminants and radionuclides in drinking water. Current requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act are not expected to have a material impact on our business, financial condition, or results of operations as we have made and are making investments to meet existing water quality standards. We may, in the future, be required to change our method of treating drinking water at some sources of supply and make additional capital investments if additional regulations become effective.
Clean Water Act - The Clean Water Act regulates discharges from drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities into lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater. It is our policy to obtain and maintain all required permits and approvals for the discharges from our water and wastewater facilities, and to comply with all conditions of those permits and other regulatory requirements. A program is in place to monitor facilities for compliance with permitting, monitoring and reporting for wastewater discharges. From time to time, discharge violations may occur which may result in fines. These fines and penalties, if any, are not expected to have a material impact on our business, financial condition, or results of operations. We are also parties to agreements with regulatory agencies in several states where we operate while improvements are being made to address wastewater discharge issues.
Solid Waste Disposal - The handling and disposal of waste generated from water and wastewater treatment facilities is governed by federal and state laws and regulations. A program is in place to monitor our facilities for compliance with regulatory requirements, and we are not aware of any significant environmental remediation costs necessary from our handling and disposal of waste material from our water and wastewater operations.
Dam Safety - Our subsidiaries own 29 dams, of which 14 are classified as high hazard dams that are subject to the requirements of the federal and state regulations related to dam safety, which undergo regular inspections and an annual engineering inspection. After a thorough review and inspection of our dams by professional outside engineering firms, we believe that all 14 dams are structurally sound and well-maintained, except as described below. These inspections provide recommendations for ongoing rehabilitation which we include in our capital improvement program.
We performed studies of our dams that identified five high hazard dams in Pennsylvania and two high hazard dams in Ohio requiring capital improvements. These capital improvements result from the adoption by state regulatory agencies of revised formulas for calculating the magnitude of a possible maximum flood event. The most significant capital improvement remaining to be performed in our dam improvement program is on one dam in Pennsylvania at a total estimated cost of $12,400,000. Design for this dam commenced in 2013 and construction is expected to be completed in 2024.
A 2017 dam inspection in Illinois found cracks on two control gate mechanisms, and as a result, temporary gates were installed to eliminate reliance on the cracked control gates. An inspection of the other control gates was conducted in the fourth quarter of 2017, and it was determined that the dam’s control gates should be replaced. All gates were reinforced in 2018 and five gates were replaced in 2019. The five remaining gates were replaced in 2020 along with the stabilization
of the concrete spillway. The entire project cost $22,000,000. We believe these capital investments will be recoverable in ratemaking.
One of our Ohio dams requiring capital improvements is no longer used for water supply and was sold to a third party in December 2020. In connection with the sale, we contractually agreed to complete certain dam capital improvements after the sale in 2021 for an estimated cost of $2,100,000.
Lead and Copper Rule – The events in Flint, Michigan, which commenced in 2014, and other communities have brought attention to the issue of lead in drinking water from home plumbing. Lead in drinking water can come from lead that leaches from service lines, home plumbing solder, and fixtures or faucets. Since the Lead and Copper Rule in 1992, we have been working to prevent lead leaching from home plumbing sources by reducing water corrosivity and adding chemicals that can prevent leaching of lead in pipes and homes. We have a program to evaluate all changes in water sources and/or treatment prior to initiating a change in water supply. We also focus on identifying and removing lead service lines and encouraging customers to replace the customer-owned portion of the service line if it is lead as they are identified during our main replacement program or during other maintenance activities. We are currently developing a lead service line inventory. We support the recommendations of The Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative, a collaborative of leading water industry, housing, and health organizations that has recommended full replacement of lead service lines as a “best practice” to reduce lead in drinking water, but we generally only have control over the company-owned portion of each service line. In cases where we are replacing a company-owned lead service line, our standard approach is to replace the company-owned portion and advise and encourage the customer to replace the customer-owned portion of the service line, all the way to the customer’s home. In Pennsylvania, we have the legal and regulatory authority to replace the customer-owned portion of the service line and will attempt to obtain customer permission to do so. We also advise customers of the potential health impacts of lead in drinking water, and conduct lead testing at homes following replacement of a lead service line.
Partnership for Safe Water Program – Essential Utilities is a proud participant in the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) Partnership for Safe Water Program. This voluntary program is a commitment to excellence within the drinking water community above and beyond EPA’s stringent treatment goals. All of our active surface water treatment plants (within Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and Virginia) maintain good standing in the program which includes many awards of achievement. The honors include the “Director’s Award” (achieved at 7 systems) which recognizes plants that have: 1) completed a comprehensive self-assessment report, 2) created an action plan for continuous improvement, and 3) provided several evaluations of performance demonstrating operational excellence. Several of our systems have met these criteria annually and have received 5, 10, 15, and 20 year subscriber awards. Furthermore, our Roaring Creek Pennsylvania treatment plant has received the Phase IV Excellence Award, the highest honor achieved in the Partnership Program.
Safety Standards - Our facilities and operations may be subject to inspections by representatives of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from time to time. We maintain safety policies and procedures to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s rules and regulations, but violations may occur from time to time, which may result in fines and penalties, which are not expected to have a material impact on our business, financial condition, or results of operations. We endeavor to correct such violations promptly when they come to our attention.
Pipeline Safety Improvement Act- In December 2006, Congress enacted the Pipeline, Inspection, Protection, Enforcement and Safety Act of 2006 (“2006 Act”), which reauthorized the programs adopted under the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 (“2002 Act”). These programs included several requirements related to ensuring pipeline safety, and a requirement to assess the integrity of pipeline transmission facilities in areas of high population concentration.
Pursuant to the 2006 Act, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (“PHMSA”) , an agency of the US Department of Transportation (“DOT”), issued regulations, effective February 12, 2010, requiring operators of gas distribution pipelines to develop and implement integrity management programs similar to those required for gas transmission pipelines, but tailored to reflect the differences in distribution pipelines. Operators of natural gas distribution systems were required to write and implement integrity management programs by August 2, 2011. Peoples’s natural gas distribution systems met this deadline.
Pursuant to the 2002 Act and the 2006 Act, PHMSA has adopted a number of rules concerning, among other things, distinguishing between gathering lines and transmission facilities, requiring certain design and construction features in new and replaced lines to reduce corrosion and requiring pipeline operators to amend existing written operations and maintenance procedures and operator qualification programs. PHMSA also updated its reporting requirements for natural gas pipelines effective January 1, 2011.
In December 2011, Congress passed the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (“2011 Act”). This act increased the maximum civil penalties for pipeline safety administrative enforcement actions; required the DOT to study and report on the expansion of integrity management requirements and the sufficiency of existing gathering line regulations to ensure safety; required pipeline operators to verify their records on maximum allowable operating pressure; and imposed new emergency response and incident notification requirements. In 2016, the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2016 (“2016 Act”) reauthorized PHMSA’s pipeline safety programs through 2019 and provided limited new authority, including the ability to issue emergency orders, to set inspection requirements for certain underwater pipelines and to promulgate minimum safety standards for natural gas storage facilities, as well as to provide increased transparency into the status of as-yet-incomplete PHMSA actions required by the 2011 Act.
Compliance with PHMSA’s regulations, performance of the remediation activities by our natural gas distribution companies and intrastate pipelines and verification of records on maximum allowable operating pressure will continue to require increases in both capital expenditures and operating costs. The level of expenditures will depend upon several factors, including age, location and operating pressures of the facilities. In particular, the cost of compliance with the DOT’s integrity management rules will depend on integrity testing and the repairs found to be necessary by such testing. Changes to the amount of pipe subject to integrity management, whether by expansion of the definition of the type of areas subject to integrity management procedures or of the applicability of such procedures outside of those defined areas, may also affect incurred costs. Implementation of the 2011 and 2016 Acts by PHMSA may result in other regulations or the reinterpretation of existing regulations that could impact compliance costs. In addition, we may be subject to the DOT’s enforcement actions and penalties if it fails to comply with pipeline regulations.
We maintain security measures at our facilities, and collaborate with federal, state and local authorities and industry trade associations regarding information on possible threats and security measures for water, wastewater, and natural gas utility operations. The costs incurred are expected to be recoverable in customer rates and are not expected to have a material impact on our business, financial condition, or results of operations.
We also maintain cyber security protection measures with respect to our information technology, including our customer data, and, in some cases, the monitoring and operation of our treatment, storage, pumping, and pipeline infrastructure. We rely on our information technology systems in connection with the operation of our business, especially with respect to customer service and billing, accounting and, in some cases, the monitoring and operation of our treatment, storage, pumping, and pipeline infrastructure. In addition, we rely on our systems to track our utility assets and to manage maintenance and construction projects, materials and supplies, and our human resource functions.
Employees and Human Capital
The Company is dedicated to creating a sustainable working atmosphere for its employees to attract and retain the best employees. Human capital measures and objectives that the Company focuses on in managing its business include the health and safety of its employees, succession planning, voluntary attrition rate, and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
As of December 31, 2020, we employed a total of 3,180 full-time employees. Our subsidiaries are parties to 19 labor agreements with labor unions covering 1,356 employees. The labor agreements expire at various times up until March 2025.
Health and Safety - Safety is the foundation of our business and what guides all our employees’ actions. The Company continues to invest in safety improvements, implement policies and procedures, develop technical training and guidelines
for our employees, and leverage new tools and technology to improve our maps, records and infrastructure performance. The Company is focused on identifying and mitigating risk and safeguarding our plants and distribution lines. Our teams make safety a top priority on the job, in meetings, and within our surrounding work environments to ensure our employees, and our customers, safety is treated with the highest level of concern. In recent years, our safety record has improved. For 2020, the Company’s lost time incidents are down 33%, and responsible vehicle accidents have declined by 14% from 2019. To encourage managers to promote a safe environment, these metrics, among others, are incorporated in management’s incentive compensation plans.
Ahead of the closing of the Peoples Gas Acquisition in March 2020, we also created a combined Environmental Health and Safety management position to provide oversight to the gas, water and wastewater businesses. This included the appointment of a National Safety Director charged with developing and implementing a combined health and safety program that will continue to incorporate our best practices to keep our workers safe.
The Company provides access to a variety of innovative, flexible, and convenient employee health and wellness programs. We proactively conduct communications outreach to our employees and their family members on relevant health topics. With the focus on mental health becoming more of a central part of an employee’s well-being, we have added additional resources and counseling access for employees and their families to utilize and ensure they take care of themselves.
Succession Planning- Under the Company’s Corporate Governance Guidelines, the Board of Directors is responsible for the development and periodic review of a management succession plan for the Chief Executive Officer and other executives. Annually, the Board of Directors reviews the Company’s succession planning process for the Chief Executive Officer and the named executive officers. During this review, the directors review succession candidates on an immediate basis and more developmental candidates so that the Company is well-prepared for the future.
Voluntary Attrition and Turnover - The Company measures turnover rates of its employees in assessing the Company’s overall human capital. The Company’s voluntary attrition rate (not including retirements) for 2020 was 0% at the executive and senior management level, 2% at the mid-level manager level, 4% at the professional level, and 4% across all other employees.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion - Diversity of backgrounds, ideas, thoughts, and experiences is essential to our culture and the way we do business. Creating an environment where our differences are valued and where every person feels a sense of belonging and engagement supports a thriving organization that cares about our customers. In 2019 and 2020 our Company conducted education and unconscious bias workshops to foster better understanding of points of view and how pre-conceived notions impact relationships at work. Diversifying the workforce continues to be a focus at all levels of the Company. Our diversity hiring for the organization grew by more than 7% from 2019. Diversity at the management level has also grown, with 7% of the management team comprised of minorities and 23% of the management team comprised of women by the end of 2020.
We recognize an opportunity to strengthen the diversity in our company. Based on local customer demographic data, we are focused on increasing the diversity of our employee demographics to reflect the diversity in the communities that we serve. We have a range of diverse recruitment tactics and believe we can achieve our multiyear plan of reaching 17% employees of color.
We file annual, quarterly, current reports, proxy statements, and other information with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). You may obtain our SEC filings from the SEC’s web site at www.sec.gov.
Our internet web site address is www.essential.co. We make available free of charge through our web site’s Investor Relations page all of our filings with the SEC, including our annual report on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K, and other information. These reports and information are available as soon as reasonably practicable after such material is electronically filed with the SEC.
In addition, you may request a copy of the foregoing filings, at no cost by writing or telephoning us at the following address or telephone number:
Investor Relations Department
Essential Utilities, Inc.
762 W. Lancaster Avenue
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010-3489
Our Board of Directors has various committees including an audit committee, an executive compensation committee, a corporate governance committee, and a risk mitigation and investment policy committee. Each of these committees has a formal charter. We also have Corporate Governance Guidelines and a Code of Ethical Business Conduct. Copies of these charters, guidelines, and codes can be obtained free of charge from our Investor Relations page on our web site, www.essential.co. In the event we amend or waive any portion of the Code of Ethical Business Conduct that applies to any of our directors, executive officers, or senior financial officers, we will post that information on our web site.
The references to our web site and the SEC’s web site are intended to be inactive textual references only, and the contents of those web sites are not incorporated by reference herein and should not be considered part of this or any other report that we file with or furnish to the SEC.
In addition to the other information included in this Annual Report, the following factors should be considered in evaluating our business and future prospects. Any of the following risks, either alone or taken together, could materially harm our business, financial condition, and results of operations. If one or more of these or other risks or uncertainties materialize, or if our underlying assumptions prove to be incorrect, our business, financial condition, and results of operations could be materially harmed.
Risk Factor Summary
Our business is subject to many risks and uncertainties. The following are the types of forward-looking statements we make throughout this Annual Report, including in these Risk Factors, and a summary of the types of risks that could impact us and cause actual results to differ from those described in such forward-looking statements:
the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic or the measures implemented by the Company as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
expectations regarding the impact of the integration of the Peoples Gas Acquisition;
opportunities for future acquisitions, both within and outside the water, wastewater, and natural gas industries, the success of pending acquisitions and the impact of future acquisitions;
acquisition-related costs and synergies;
the sale of water and wastewater divisions;
the impact of conservation awareness of customers and more efficient fixtures and appliances on water and natural gas usage per customer;
our authority to carry on our business without unduly burdensome restrictions;
our capability to pursue timely rate increase requests;
the capacity of our water supplies, water facilities, wastewater facilities, and natural gas supplies and storage facilities;
the impact of decisions of governmental and regulatory bodies, including decisions to raise or lower rates and decisions regarding potential acquisitions;
developments, trends and consolidation in the water, wastewater, and natural gas utility and infrastructure industries;
the impact of changes in and compliance with governmental laws, regulations and policies, including those dealing with the environment, health and water quality, taxation, and public utility regulation;
the development of new services and technologies by us or our competitors;
the availability of qualified personnel;
the condition of our assets;
recovery of capital expenditures and expenses in rates;
projected capital expenditures and related funding requirements;
the availability and cost of capital financing;
dividend payment projections;
the impact of geographic diversity on our exposure to unusual weather;
the continuation of investments in strategic ventures;
our ability to obtain fair market value for condemned assets;
the impact of fines and penalties;
the impact of legal proceedings;
general economic conditions;
the impact of federal and/or state tax policies and the regulatory treatment of the effects of those policies; and
the amount of income tax deductions for qualifying utility asset improvements and the Internal Revenue Service’s ultimate acceptance of the deduction methodology.
Because forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties, there are important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by these forward-looking statements, including but not limited to:
impacts from the global outbreak of COVID-19, including on consumption, usage and collections.
the diversion of our management’s time and resources caused by the integration efforts with respect to the Peoples Gas business;
the success in the closing of, and the profitability of future acquisitions;
changes in general economic, business, credit and financial market conditions;
our ability to manage the expansion of our business, including our ability to manage our expanded operations resulting from the Peoples Gas Acquisition;
our ability to integrate and otherwise realize all of the anticipated benefits of businesses, technologies or services which we may acquire;
changes in environmental conditions, including the effects of climate change;
the decisions of governmental and regulatory bodies, including decisions on regulatory filings, including rate increase requests and decisions regarding potential acquisitions;
our ability to file rate cases on a timely basis to minimize regulatory lag;
abnormal weather conditions, including those that result in water use restrictions;
the seasonality of our business;
our ability to treat and supply water or collect and treat wastewater;
our ability to source sufficient natural gas to meet customer demand in a timely manner;
the continuous and reliable operation of our information technology systems, including the impact of cyber security attacks or other cyber-related events;
changes in governmental laws, regulations and policies, including those dealing with taxation, the environment, health and water quality, and public utility regulation;
the extent to which we are able to develop and market new and improved services;
the effect of the loss of major customers;
our ability to retain the services of key personnel and to hire qualified personnel as we expand;
increasing difficulties in obtaining insurance and increased cost of insurance;
cost overruns relating to improvements to, or the expansion of, our operations;
increases in the costs of goods and services;
the effect of natural gas price volatility;
civil disturbance or terroristic threats or acts;
changes to the rules or our assumptions underlying our determination of what qualifies for an income tax deduction for qualifying utility asset improvements;
changes in, or unanticipated, capital requirements;
changes in our credit rating or the market price of our common stock;
changes in valuation of strategic ventures;
the phase-out of the London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”), or the replacement of LIBOR with a different reference rate or modification of the method used to calculate LIBOR, which may adversely affect interest rates;
changes in accounting pronouncements;
litigation and claims; and
restrictions on our subsidiaries’ ability to make dividends and other distributions.
Risk Related to COVID-19 Pandemic
Global or regional health pandemics, epidemics or similar public health threats, including COVID-19, could negatively impact our business, outlook, financial condition, results of operations and liquidity.
Our business and financial results could be negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or other pandemics, epidemics or similar public health threats. The severity, magnitude and duration of COVID-19 is uncertain, rapidly changing and hard to predict. In 2020, COVID-19 significantly impacted economic activity and markets around the world, including in our service areas, and it could negatively impact our business in numerous ways, including, but not limited to, those outlined below:
we have experienced reduced demand from our commercial customers and shifts in demand for our regulated utility services;
our ability to maintain our service to customers may be impaired because of shutdowns and/or illness and travel restrictions among our employees or employees of other companies on whom we rely;
we have experienced delays in payment, or inability of some of our customers to pay for our services, and our ability to disconnect service for non-payment may be limited, and state regulators may impose bill deferral programs, all of which could impact our business, results of operations, liquidity and financial condition;
the COVID-19 pandemic may limit or curtail significantly or entirely the ability of public utility commissions to approve or authorize applications and other requests we may make with respect to our regulated water and natural gas businesses; and
our supply chain and our ability to complete maintenance, repairs and capital programs, could be impacted, which could result in delays and/or increased costs.
These and other impacts of COVID-19 or other global or regional health pandemics, epidemics or similar public health threats could also have the effect of heightening many of the other risks described in “Risk Factors” in this Annual Report and the other reports we file from time to time with the SEC. We might not be able to predict or respond to all impacts on a timely basis to prevent near- or long-term adverse impacts to our results of operations, financial condition and liquidity. The ultimate impact of COVID-19 on our business depends on factors beyond our knowledge or control, including the duration and severity of the outbreak as well as third-party actions taken to contain its spread and mitigate its public health effects. Any of these factors could have a negative impact on our business, outlook, financial condition, and results of operations, which impact could be material.
General economic conditions, as impacted by COVID-19 pandemic, may affect our financial condition and results of operations.
A general economic downturn may lead to a number of impacts on our business and may affect our financial condition and results of operations. Such impacts may include:
a reduction in discretionary and recreational water use by our residential water customers, particularly during the summer months when such discretionary usage is normally at its highest;
a reduction in natural gas use by our residential customers, particularly during the winter months when such usage is normally at its highest;
a decline in usage by industrial and commercial customers as a result of decreased business activity;
an increased incidence of customers’ inability to pay or delays in paying their utility bills, or an increase in customer bankruptcies, which may lead to higher bad debt expense and reduced cash flow;
a lower natural customer growth rate due to a decline in new housing starts; and
a decline in the number of active customers due to housing vacancies.
General economic turmoil may also lead to an investment market downturn, which may result in our pension and other post-retirement plans’ asset market values suffering a decline and significant volatility. A decline in our plans’ asset market values could increase our required cash contributions to the plans and expense in subsequent years.
Risks Related to Acquisitions
Integrating the Peoples Gas Acquisition may disrupt or have a negative impact on our business.
We completed the Peoples Gas Acquisition on March 16, 2020. We could have difficulty integrating the acquired assets, personnel and operations. The Peoples Gas Acquisition is complex and we are devoting significant time and resources to integrating the businesses. Risks that could impact us negatively include:
the difficulty of integrating the acquired companies and their operations;
the potential disruption of the ongoing businesses and distraction of our management and the management of the acquired companies;
changes in our business focus and/or management;
risks related to the natural gas distribution business;
difficulties in maintaining uniform standards, controls, procedures and policies;
the potential impairment of relationships with employees and partners as a result of any integration of new management personnel;
the potential difficulty in managing an increased number of locations and employees;
our ability to successfully manage Peoples;
unanticipated adverse regulatory decisions related to Peoples; or
the effect of any government regulations which relate to the business acquired.
If we are not successful in addressing these risks effectively, our business could be severely impaired.
One of the important elements of our growth strategy is the acquisition of regulated utility systems. Any acquisition we decide to undertake may involve risks. Further, competition for acquisition opportunities from other regulated utilities, governmental entities, and strategic and financial buyers may hinder our ability to grow our business. Lastly, competition and industry trends could impact our ability to retain existing natural gas customers or acquire new customers, which could have an adverse impact on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
One important element of our growth strategy is the acquisition and integration of regulated utility systems in order to broaden our service areas. In addition, the acquisition of Peoples is an opportunity to broaden our services to include natural gas distribution and additional states of operation. We will not be able to acquire other businesses if we cannot
identify suitable acquisition opportunities or reach mutually agreeable terms with acquisition candidates. It is our intent, when practical, to integrate any businesses we acquire with our existing operations. Investing in and integrating acquisitions could require us to incur significant costs and cause diversion of our management's time and resources, and we may be unable to successfully integrate our business with acquired businesses or to realize anticipate benefits of acquisitions. Acquisitions by us could also result in:
dilutive issuances of our equity securities;
incurrence of debt, contingent liabilities, and environmental liabilities;
unanticipated capital expenditures;
failure to maintain effective internal control over financial reporting;
recording goodwill and other intangible assets for which we may never realize their full value and may result in an asset impairment that may negatively affect our results of operations;
fluctuations in quarterly results;
other acquisition related expenses; and
exposure to unknown or unexpected risks and liabilities.
Some or all of these items could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, and cash flows, and our ability to finance our business and to comply with regulatory requirements. The businesses we acquire, including Peoples, may not achieve sales and profitability that would justify our investment, and any difficulties we encounter in the integration process, including in the integration of processes necessary for internal control and financial reporting, could interfere with our operations, reduce our operating margins and harm our internal controls.
Some states in which we operate allow the respective public utility commissions to use fair market value to set ratemaking rate base instead of the traditional depreciated original cost of water or wastewater assets for certain qualifying municipal acquisitions. Depending on the state, there are varying rules and circumstances in which fair value is determined. A number of states’ regulations allow ratemaking rate base to equal the lower of the average of the appraisals or the purchase price, subject to regulatory approval. There may be situations where we may pay more than the ultimate fair value of the utility assets as set by the regulatory commission, despite the fair value legislation suggesting its full recovery. In these situations, goodwill may be recognized to the extent there is an excess purchase price over the fair value of net tangible and identifiable intangible assets acquired through a business acquisition. Our financial condition and results of operations could be harmed by an inability to earn a return on, and recover our purchase price as a component of rate base.
We compete with governmental entities, other regulated utilities, and strategic and financial buyers, for acquisition opportunities. As consolidation becomes more prevalent in the utility industry and competition for acquisitions increases, the prices for suitable acquisition candidates may increase to unacceptable levels and limit our ability to grow through acquisitions. In addition, our competitors may impede our growth by purchasing utilities near our existing operations, thereby preventing us from acquiring them. Governmental entities or environmental / social activist groups have challenged, and may in the future challenge our efforts to acquire new service territories, particularly from municipalities or municipal authorities. Additionally, on occasion we have entered into agreements to acquire water or wastewater utility systems that have been challenged by municipalities, or where referenda are required, which may impact our ability to complete the acquisition. Higher purchase prices and resulting rates may limit our ability to invest additional capital for system maintenance and upgrades in an optimal manner. Our growth could be hindered if we are not able to compete effectively for new companies and/or service territories with other companies or strategic and financial buyers that have lower costs of operations or capital, or that submit more attractive bids. Any of these risks may harm our business, financial condition, and results of operations.
We face the risk that large natural gas customers may bypass gas distribution services by gaining distribution directly from interstate pipelines, other gas distributors or other energy sources. Increased competition or other changes in legislation, regulation or policies could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations. Moreover, changes in wholesale natural gas prices compared with prices for electricity, fuel oil, coal, propane or other energy sources may affect the retention of natural gas customers and may adversely impact our future financial condition and results of operations.
Risks Related to Health and Safety and Environmental Concerns
Our water supply, including water provided to our customers, is subject to various contaminants which may result in disruption in our services, additional costs, loss of revenue, fines, laws and/or regulations, and litigation which could harm our business, reputation, financial condition, and results of operations.
Our water supplies, including water provided to our customers, are subject to possible contaminants, including those from: