|The Saluda Dam|
On Wednesday, the S.C. Public Service Commission (PSC) approved an electric rate hike for SCE&G that was 48.75% less than the company’s request.
The 4.88% increase instead of a 9.52% hike was good news for all SCE&G customers, including small businesses. The increase will take place over 3 years instead of the proposed 12 months.
This was my 5th time intervening in an SCE&G rate hearing and the 5th time seeing significant cuts from original rate hike filings (43% in 2002, 49.4% in 2004, 20% in 2005 for natural gas, 35% in 2007). SCE&G has had other rate increases to cover the increased cost of fuel but those are pass-throughs so the company does not profit.
Catching the Same Breaks as the Big Guns
The S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) has been a valuable asset to the Small Business Chamber in our efforts to keep utility bills as low as possible. They were particularly instrumental in the negotiations for this case in helping with my request to defer $3 million of the rate hike for small businesses from the first year of the increase to the second year in hopes for a better economy. SCE&G had intended to offer larger utility customers this break.
At my request, SCE&G has also stated its intention to look more favorably on small businesses in future proposed adjustments—to make our rate more equitable compared to other classifications. The new rates moved us in that direction, although we’re not there yet.
Different Factors at Play — This Time Around
But while we have seen reductions in rate hike requests as large as this one, the contributing factors were a little different.
In my radio interview with Dukes Scott, Executive Director of ORS, he pointed out the very diverse group of official parties to the case opposing the rate hike was important.
Large industrial, big retail, small business, conservationists, non-profits, and private citizens all were at the negotiating table—a richer mix than usual.
Wide Variety at Hearings Sealed the Deal
Then there were the very important public hearings. In addition to the Small Business Chamber, non-parties to the SCE&G case—including AARP-SC, S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center and S.C. Fair Share—sent e-mail blasts to their members encouraging attendance at hearings. Scott particularly cited AARP’s efforts in turning out large crowds at the hearings.
“I know that the testimony from the consumers at the night hearings was so important to us for getting a further reduction than I think we could have gotten without them,” Scott told me.