SCE&G plans another rate raise

COLUMBIA -- SCE&G has won approval from state regulators for another electric rate hike -- its sixth boost in five years.

Combined with a rate hike approved earlier this year, the new rates raise the average SCE&G residential bill by about $5.50 a month.

The 2.3 percent increase approved this week is part of annual increases that help pay for the Cayce utility's portion of a $9.8 billion expansion of a Fairfield County nuclear plant.

SCE&G initially sought a 2.82 percent rate increase but lowered the request after calculating current project costs and a court decision that rejected passing on some costs to customers, spokesman Robert Yanity said.

The new rate takes effect on bills sent out starting Oct. 30.

The electric utility serves about 45,500 customers in Beaufort and Jasper counties. Most of the Beaufort County customers are in the northern part of the county.

Under state law, SCE&G can raise rates to pay for adding two reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station each year until the second new reactor goes online in 2019. Having customers pay for construction before the reactors are fired up should save $1 billion in costs and interest payments, the utility said.

SCE&G raised electric rates twice last year in the first moves to pay for the nuclear plant expansion. By the end of the decade, residential customers are expected to pay $480 a year more because of the nuclear-related increases than they did in 2009.

This summer, the Public Service Commission of South Carolina approved a 4.88 percent rate hike that started in July and is being phased in through mid-2012. SCE&G is using money raised from the rate hike to pay for $700 million in federally required environmental upgrades and a backup dam at Lake Murray.

That rate hike was contentious, drawing nearly 600 protest letters and e-mails as customers chafed that the request came during a lingering recession and soon after power bills spiked from an abnormally cold January.

To ease the blow, SCE&G cut its original request in half, agreed to give customers a $25 million credit for the January bills and try a plan for a year that could lower -- or raise -- bills if weather is abnormal during a month.