South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. met the wishes of a state agency and agreed in writing Friday to raise its electricity rates less than 5 percent over three years -- about half its original request.

Under the latest rate proposal, the average bill for a household using 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity would rise by about $5.79 a month, or $69.48 a year, if approved.

In the face of a widespread public outcry, the power company said it will lower its rate request to roughly the same amount sought by the state Office of Regulatory Staff, which represents consumers in utility cases.

The company's proposal also includes a proposed one-time credit of $25 million that could be distributed to a portion of SCE&G's 655,000 customers during the next year.

Less than two weeks ago, the Cayce-based utility lowered its initial request by about a third to 6.55 percent.

As of Friday, it was asking for a 4.88 percent jump. The ORS had recommended 4.87 percent.

The state agency also has suggested SCE&G spend more than $48 million in state tax credits on programs that could alleviate power bills over the next two years.

If approved, the utility's latest rate increases would be phased in over three years: 2.5 percent in July 2010, 1.2 percent in July 2011 and 1.18 percent in July 2012.

The S.C. Public Service Commission must approve the changes, including the agreement with the ORS. The commission will conduct a public hearing on SCE&G's rate request beginning May 24 in Columbia.

Officials expect a decision by mid-July.

SCE&G's original rate request increase of 9.55 percent drew sharp and swift criticism from residents and business owners, who complained that the company was looking to raise prices significantly in the midst of an extended economic crisis.

The state held a series of public forums around South Carolina to hear those concerns.

SCE&G said it delayed its original request by a year because of the recession. It has said it needs the extra revenue to pay for $1 billion in federal environmental mandates, equipment upgrades, shareholders' returns and other items.