Dominion’s SC settlement calls for electric rates to rise, but much less than requested

Dominion’s SC settlement calls for electric rates to rise, but much less than requested

Post and Courier
July 2, 2021

By John McDermott

Dominion Energy and a state agency have settled a contested case that clears the way for the company to increase its electricity rates in South Carolina — but by a far slimmer margin than it had requested last year.

The deal, struck after six months of private negotiations, was announced July 2.

Under the terms of the settlement with the S.C Office of Regulatory Staff, the utility’s power bills for residential customers in the Palmetto State will rise by 1.37 percent effective Sept. 1, or about $1.81 a month for a typical household.

When Dominion formally filed for its increase in August, it asked for a 7.7 percent hike to recoup billions of dollars that the company and its predecessor had invested over the previous eight years.

The figure reached under the settlement is expected to generate an additional $35.6 million in annual revenue, compared to $178 million under the original proposal.

The increases for commercial customers, depending on their size, will range from 1.08 percent to 2.06 percent, down from 7.2 percent to 8.68 percent.

The overall average works out to 1.46 percent.

Frank Knapp Jr., CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, who intervened in the case as a Dominion customer, called the agreement “the best outcome possible” and “the biggest reduction in a utility rate hike request that I have seen in the last 20 years.”

The deal also prohibits the Richmond, Va.-based company from seeking another electric rate hike in South Carolina before July 1, 2023, “absent unforeseen extraordinary economic or financial conditions that may include changes in corporate tax rates.”

In addition, the energy giant is committing up to $30 million in shareholder funds to help vulnerable and economically distressed customers.

The settlement still requires a formal review by the S.C. Public Service Commission, which is likely to approve it.

The increase is the first in the state for Dominion since its acquisition of South Carolina Electric & Gas in early 2019, after the Cayce-based utility was hobbled financially by the failed expansion of the V.C. Summer nuclear plant.

The company’s roughly 700,000 customers are scattered around the Columbia, Charleston, Orangeburg and Beaufort areas.

Earlier this year, Dominion came under fire for taking its rate case before state regulators during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company and the Office of Regulatory Staff, which represents utility customers, agreed to a six-month “pause” in January in an effort to reach a compromise out of the public eye.

“We believe the negotiations led to a well-rounded, creative resolution containing consumer-friendly measures that otherwise would not be available through a formal proceeding,” said Carri Grube Lybarker, administrator with the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs.

Other groups involved in the settlement included AARP, the Sierra Club, the Coastal Conservation League and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Rodney Blevins, president of Dominion Energy South Carolina, said the company was “grateful to all parties for the spirit of cooperation, patience, and compromise that they brought to these negotiations.”

“We’re pleased to support the filed settlement and move forward,” he said. “We’re focused on continuing to provide exceptional value and reliability to our customers, meet 100 percent of our merger commitments, and promote the future prosperity of South Carolina.”

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