SCE&G gives ground on rate hike; utility now wants 4.23 percent more

The (Columbia) StateNovember 20, 2012 

COLUMBIA -- SCE&G will slash its rate increase request to the S.C. Public Service Commission for electric customers, the company said after reaching a deal with several parties opposing the increase.

The deal would save the average customer about $50 a year from the original request and would reduce the return for investors.

The company plans to seek an increase of 4.23 percent -- or $97 million -- down from the initial 6.6 percent, or $152 million, company officials said Monday. Several groups had mobilized against the rate hike, saying it included unnecessary items and excessive returns for investors.

The utility serves about 45,500 customers in Beaufort and Jasper counties. Most of its Beaufort County customers are in the northern part of the county. SCE&G serves 669,000 electrical customers in South Carolina.

The new rate increase request still must be approved by the Public Service Commission when it meets on the issue beginning Monday in Columbia. If the commission agrees to an accompanying request made in the initial rate hike request, the impact to customers could be lowered further, to $32 million, based on lowered natural gas fuel costs for SCE&G.

"We understand we had to come to an agreement," Robert Yanity, an SCE&G spokesman, said Monday. While the initial $152 million rate increase request contained legitimate costs incurred by the company, Yanity said, the new proposal also is acceptable to SCE&G because it provides for a decent return on equity and allows the company to recover necessary costs.

The S.C. Public Service Commission is set to take testimony from all sides in the rate-hike case over two days beginning Monday.

In the original rate increase request, when paired with the fuel-cost reduction, the rate hike would have come out to an extra $6.67 a month -- or about $80 a year -- for a customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours a month, the utility estimated. Under the new agreement, customers using 1,000 kilowatt hours a month would see their electric bills increase by only $2.59 a month, or just over $31 a year, Yanity said.

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