|By JOE GUY COLLIER,
Electricity bills will be going up in South Carolina but not as much as SCE&G wanted.
The state Public Service Commission on Tuesday approved a 5 percent increase in the base rate for South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.’s residential customers.
The increase, which is expected to go into effect in February, will mean about $4.23 more a month for a customer with a bill of $82.79 based on 1,000-kilowatt hours used.
The commission also approved an increase in business rates that ranges from 8 percent for small and medium power users to about 4 percent for heavy users.
The decision paves the way for the first base rate increase since 1996 for SCE&G, a division of Columbia-based SCANA Corp. with more than 500,000 electricity customers.
While rates frequently change with the seasons or fluctuations in the price of fuel, the base rate is increased to cover long-term changes in operating costs.
SCE&G said it needed more money to pay for upgrades at its Aiken plant and construction of a Jasper plant.
The rate increases will give the utility an additional $70 million a year, about two-thirds of the $105 million it was seeking.
The commission refused to increase rates as much as SCE&G requested. For example, the utility wanted to increase the rates for small businesses by almost 14 percent.
SCE&G was pleased with the outcome nonetheless, spokesman Robin Montgomery said. The additional money will help the company meet the growing need for power in the state, he said.
“What it’s going to do for us is ensure reliability to customers for many years to come,” Montgomery said.
Tim Wilkes, chairman of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said smaller businesses still were shouldering the brunt of the increases.
Despite the commission’s adjustments, the increase for small and midsize business is twice the percentage increase for large business.
The Small Business Chamber will consider appealing the decision to the courts, he said. “We feel like we won a partial victory, but the fight is not over,” Wilkes said.