John Bennett decided to skip Charleston's psychotic winter this year and spend a few months in Florida.

But even in the Sunshine State he got a cold chill from the Lowcountry.

A few weeks ago Bennett's Florida power bill came in about the same time as his forwarded bill from SCE&G. The comparison couldn't have shocked him more if he'd had his finger in a light socket.

Even though he had used four times as much power in Florida as in his Charleston home, the bills were just $5 apart.

"I don't understand how they've been allowed to get away with this for so long," Bennett says.

He was talking, of course, about SCE&G.

In fairness, part of Bennett's problem is that SCE&G has classified his residence as a business, which made his facilities fee $11 higher than it should have been.

But the bottom line is that Bennett is paying about 9 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity in Florida, compared to about 13 cents here.

And now Bennett knows something that many people suspect: South Carolina has some of the highest electric rates in the nation.

Going nuclear

In 2012, South Carolina had the highest electric rates south of Maryland and east of Nevada.

Yeah, nearly clear across the country.

And lately SCE&G has skewed the average. A report from David Slade found that, until recently, rates for the Lowcountry's power provider were more than one-third higher than those of Duke Energy Carolinas, which is the utility in the Upstate.

So why is that?

Dukes Scott, executive director of the state's Office of Regulatory Staff, says there is no easy answer. Part of it has to do with the fact that SCE&G's fuel costs are higher because it does not have the nuclear capabilities of some other utilities.

And part of it is that they are building nuclear power plants, and passing the cost on to us.

So you aren't crazy, your power bill is crazy high.

It didn't help when SCE&G implemented its Electric Weather Normalization Adjustment to "mitigate spikes" in bills. That had the upshot of people getting a higher bill sometimes when they had used less power.

It took two degrees from M.I.T. just to figure out the formula. The program was so wildly unpopular that SCE&G scuttled it late last year.

But the perception that SCE&G is expensive lingers. That's partly because we've had a harsh winter.

And partly because it's true.

Shock me

Scott says since Jan. 1, his office - which represents the public at rate hike hearings, and usually reins in requests - has gotten 59 complaints about high electric bills.

Oddly enough, more than half of those complaints are about Duke Energy.

Everybody likes to gripe about the power company.

Only 19 folks have complained about SCE&G.

Well, not including Bennett.

He was so upset that he called his sister in Georgia and found that she pays about the same for power as Bennett does in Florida.

It doesn't make him very happy.

"My feeling is if they want to build nuclear plants, they should do it with the money they're already getting from us," he says.

Bennett comes by that feeling honestly. The difference in costs between his Florida power bill and Charleston power bill comes to about 44 percent. And it's pretty common knowledge that, as SCE&G has geared up for its nuclear building program, they've raised rates 23 times in the past eight years. That's nearly three times a year.

Don't you wish you got raises that often?

SCE&G is currently requesting a new rate hike, but they also are lowering pension costs, which should offset the increase.

And hey, when they get that nuclear plant built, the company's fuel prices should go down. So maybe our electric bills will follow suit.

Now that would be a real shock.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.