SCE&G announces proposed solar initiatives, rate increase

South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. is seeking permission for a rate hike that would amount to an average $1.51 per month increase in customers’ bills, but the utility said that will be more than offset by savings in fuel costs that will be passed on to consumers.

In addition, SCE&G on Tuesday announced new proposals to boost the use of solar energy. The proposals must be approved by the state’s Public Service Commission before they can be implemented. They include incentive rates for customers who choose to install solar generation systems and an opportunity for municipalities and tax-exempt organizations to buy into solar farms and receive credits based on the monthly output.

The Cayce-based utility also expects to add 45 megawatts of utility-scale solar power at projects including the Leeds Avenue solar farm in North Charleston and another near Cayce. An announcement is expected soon about the developers for those projects, with completion expected by this fall.

“SCE&G remains committed to expanding the use of renewable energy resources, and our proposed renewable generation programs provide customers with innovative new options to access solar,” John Raftery, general manager of renewable products and services, said in a statement. “With construction beginning soon on our first two solar farms, the future is looking very bright.”

The proposed rate increase is to pay for the utility’s “Demand Side Management” program, a series of initiatives to help customers reduce energy costs. The program includes in-home energy checkups, appliance recycling initiatives and incentives to buy new or improve existing heating, cooling and water heater systems so they meet stricter energy-efficiency standards.

Chad Burgess, an attorney for SCANA Corp,, the utility’s owner, told state regulators in a letter last month that the proposed rate hike “will be offset by the anticipated decrease in SCE&G’s total fuel cost factors. Therefore, the net effect of these rate adjustments is an overall rate decrease for SCE&G’s retail electric customers beginning with the first billing cycle of May 2015,” Burgess wrote.

Nearly 2 million customers took part in the Demand Side Management programs from Dec. 1, 2012, to Nov. 30, 2013, period saving 105,378 megawatt hours. Each megawatt hour is roughly equivalent to the amount of electricity used in one hour by 330 homes.

The Public Service Commission has not scheduled a hearing on the rate increase proposal.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_