When utilities want to raise their rates, they almost always hear from customers who oppose the idea, and they almost always are allowed to raise rates anyway. That’s because the hike is usually to cover the cost of a capital project that is already under way.
Surely there is a better system, and the Coastal Conservation League (CCL) and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) have some suggestions. They’re appealing to the state Public Service Commission (PSC) to consider three of them.
The PSC is often accused of being more friendly to utilities than to consumers. This is a good opportunity for commissioners to be proactive and demonstrate their commitment to the public by giving serious consideration to the ideas.
The project in question is one Duke Energy is proposing — a natural gas facility in Lee County. CCL and the SACE believe the commission’s policy should require clarification of three issues.
■ Duke wants to build the plant to use beginning in 2017. CCL and SACE have crunched the numbers and suggest it won’t be necessary until 2018. The PSC should address that discrepancy before giving permission for the project. Delaying construction could ease the financial burden on customers.
■ The PSC should require utilities like Duke to opt for energy efficiencies that would save money. The environmental groups have data showing how Duke could have saved $5 billion through energy efficiency.
■ Finally, CCL and SACE say adding a solar facility to the Lee plant would meet or beat the long-term cost of fuel needed for the plant. The solar element would mitigate the risk that comes when natural gas prices rise, and it would be non-polluting and sustainable.
Alternative energy sources should be a routine factor in the PSC’s analysis of a project.
A lot of South Carolinians have a difficult time paying their utility bills, but they cannot do without power.
The Public Service Commission should do everything it reasonably can to serve the people of the state, starting with thoughtful consideration of the three recommendations by the Coastal Conservation League and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
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