Charleston Post and Courier
July 6, 2016
By Brian Hicks Columnist
One reader writes that electricity rates seem to go up every year, and “I wish someone would help us customers.”
And thousands of Charleston-area residents say “Amen.” Next to the state of our roads, people gripe about few things as much as their power bill.
But SCE&G really doesn’t raise its rates every year.
Sometimes they do it two or three times.
Between 2008 and 2015, SCE&G raised its rates 14 times, half of those to help finance nuclear reactors. Now they want another increase.
Man, those cooling towers are not only scary, they’re pricey.
In fairness, every now and then the utility lowers rates a little.
But, as they did in the spring, that’s usually just before they ask for another whopping 3 percent increase.
Company officials say your rates won’t be any higher at the end of this year than they were at the beginning. Pardon some people if they don’t believe that. In the past decade, SCE&G rates have gone up by about 50 percent.
And you know who let it happen? Yep, the state.
This ain’t cable TV — we require power to live.
And when you are forced to pay a monopoly for something you can’t get anywhere else, that’s not the marketplace at work — it’s more like a tax increase.
In the briar patch
Some people like to say government should be run more like a business. This should make them re-think that.
This nuclear plant project — co-owned with Santee Cooper, a state utility — has been plagued by delays and cost overruns. But neither the contractor nor the company has been held accountable for these maladies. They have the same solution no matter whose fault it is: Another $800 million?
Well, pass it on to the customers and pass out those dividend checks!
Conversely, when the completion of Interstate 526 was plagued by delays and cost overruns, the state just dropped it. So if government operated like a business our taxes might go through the roof — but at least we’d get our roads paved.
Critics of the utilities blame the government for allowing utilities to operate this way, and they’re right.
See, utilities have to get approval to raise rates from the Public Service Commission. And our state regulators, bless their hearts, just can’t say no.
The utilities graciously give them cover by asking for more than they need so our wonderful public watchdogs can say, “You can’t have a 3.1 percent rate increase, that’s preposterous. You get 2 percent.”
Just wait and see.
It’s the biggest scam since “Please don’t throw me in that briar patch.”
This will make you hotter than a July power outage: state law allows the utility to raise rates enough to guarantee themselves a profit.
The PSC can’t tell the utilities to dip into the first 10 or so percent of their profits to pay for cost overruns.
So these guys get a monopoly and guaranteed profits.
You should thank conservative lawmakers for their defense of capitalism there …
Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, says this should be no surprise.
He told reporter David Wren the Legislature gives utilities a “blank check.”
In 2008, lawmakers passed a Base Load Review Act that allows a utility to pass along cost for the nuclear plant project as it goes along instead of issuing bonds, like Santee Cooper and most companies.
Knapp says lawmakers let the industry write the bill and, as is often the case, didn’t understand it. Honestly, you can’t expect a bunch of part-time legislators to understand industry jargon. But they should at least check their power bills.
A while back, SCE&G had this complicated weather normalization adjustment plan to stabilize bills, but it was so convoluted — and of suspicious benefit — that it was shut down by popular demand.
Maybe the state needs to re-evaluate this pay-as-you-go financing plan, too, since SCE&G customers are liable to go nuclear before that uber-expensive plant.
Or else we could just ask SCE&G, while they’re picking our pockets, to finish 526.