York County residents will have the chance to weigh in on Duke Energys proposed electric rate hike in South Carolina the companys third such proposal since 2010.
A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday in Barnes Theater at York Technical College in Rock Hill. Similar hearings have been held in Spartanburg, Greenville, Anderson and Columbia.
Under Dukes proposal, electric rates would increase 5.5 percent the first year and 2.6 percent the second year.
If the rate hike is approved by the state Public Service Commission, a typical household would see its monthly power bill increase by an average of $10.31 at the end of the two-phase plan.
Duke has more than a half-million customers in South Carolina, including more than 65,000 people in York, Chester and Lancaster counties 31,513 in York County, 13,852 in Chester County, and 20,091 in Lancaster County.
If approved, the heightened rates could go into effect as early as September, and rates could not be increased again until 2015.
Duke originally proposed a 15.1 percent average increase in electric rates, which would have translated to an additional $17.83 a month for the typical resident.
However, after an audit, the state Office of Regulatory Staff whittled it down to 8.2 percent over the course of two years to decrease the burden on customers.
The customer is going to be paying more over time, but paying less as they go, said C. Dukes Scott, executive director of ORS.
The PSC audit found that much of Duke Energys proposed hike was going to pay for employee bonuses and other items that didnt directly benefit customers, Scott said.
The audit also looked at how the hike would be divided among specific types of customers, he said. With the current proposal, residential customers will be seeing the highest rate increase, compared to commercial, industrial and lighting customers.
Residents have typically paid less than their fair share of energy costs compared to non-residential users, Scott said, so the different increases among types of customers reflect equitable adjustments.
The Office of Regulatory Staff included the provision barring the company from raising rates again too soon. Company shareholders also will contribute $1 million to support public education initiatives and other community outreach programs.
The agreement achieves a balance between the concerns of our customers and the need to recover the investments we made into the system, Duke spokesman Ryan Mosier said. Theres a lot of give and take nobody ever wants to see an increase in their bill.
Duke cited the need to replace aging infrastructure and recover costs from existing power plants as the primary reasons driving the hike.
Of the four capital projects initially cited by the companys Carolinas division, only one, Oconee Nuclear Station, is in South Carolina. The rest are in North Carolina.
Electricity generation doesnt stop at the border, Mosier said of the companys capital investments and the need to raise rates in both states.
North Carolinas Utilities Commission recently cut Dukes proposed hike there from an initial 9.7 percent increase to 5.1 percent, phased in over three years.
In addition to its proposal to raise electric rates, Duke filed another proposal with the Public Service Commission that would add to customers monthly bills its annual fuel and energy efficiency charges, which is separate from electric rates.
If approved, the two charges would cost the average homeowner an additional $7.62 a month starting in January on top of the proposed hike.
Mosier said those rates are adjusted annually and reflect changes in the cost of fuel used to generate electricity. Fuel costs swing from year to year and are affected by changes in weather, demand and market forces.
The timing of the annual fuel adjustments was unfortunate, he said, as it might leave some customers confused about the separate rate hike.
Jie Jenny Zou • 803-329-4062