(a) All cases or proceedings, declared to be or properly classified as general rate cases under G.S. 62-137, or any proceedings which will substantially affect any utility's overall level of earnings or rate of return, shall be set for trial or hearing by the Commission, which trial or hearing shall be set to commence within six months of the institution or filing thereof, and all such cases or proceedings shall be tried or heard and decided, with the issuance of a final order, by the Commission within nine months of the institution or filing thereof. All such cases or proceedings shall be tried or heard and decided in accordance with the rate-making procedure set forth in G.S. 62-133 and such cases shall be given priority over all other cases or proceedings pending before the Commission. In all such cases the Commission shall make a transcript of the evidence and testimony presented and received by it and shall furnish a copy thereof to any party so requesting by the third business day after the taking of such evidence and testimony.
(b) Any public utility filing or applying for an increase in rates for electric, telephone, natural gas or water service shall notify its customers proposed to be affected by such increase of such filing by regular mail or by newspaper publications, as directed by the Commission, within 30 days of such filing, which notice shall state that the Commission shall set and shall conduct a trial or hearing with respect to such filing or application within six months of said filing date. All other public utilities shall give such notice in such manner as shall be prescribed by the Commission.
(c) In cases or proceedings filed with and pending before the Commission, where the total annual revenue requested, or where the total annual revenue increase requested, is less than three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000), even though all or a substantial portion of the rate structure is being initially established or is under review, the chairman of the Commission may refer the proceeding to a panel of three commissioners or to a hearing commissioner or to a hearing examiner for hearing.
(d) In all proceedings for an increase in rates and all other proceedings declared to be general rate cases under G.S. 62-137, the Commission shall conduct the hearing or portions of the hearing within the area of the State served by the public utility whose rates are under consideration, provided this subsection shall not apply to proceedings held pursuant to G.S. 62-134(e) and 62-133(f).
(e) Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, application by any public utility for permission and authority to adjust its rates and charges based solely upon the cost of fuel used in the generation or production of electric power shall be determined in accordance with the provisions of G.S. 62-134(e).
(f) Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, or other provisions of this Chapter which would otherwise require a hearing, where there is no significant public protest received within 30 days of the publication of notice of a proposed rate change for a water or sewer utility, the Commission may decide the proceeding based on the record without a trial or hearing, provided said utility and all other parties of record have waived their right to any such hearing. Any decision made pursuant to this subsection shall be made in accordance with the provisions of G.S. 62-133 or 62-133.1. (1963, c. 1165, s. 1; 1973, c. 1074; 1975, c. 45; c. 243, ss. 6, 9; c. 867, s. 6; 1977, c. 468, s. 15; 1981, c. 193, s. 3; c. 439.)