South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. agreed Monday not to seek higher retail power rates for two years as part of a plan to secure a proposed 4.88 percent price increase starting in July.

It was the latest stipulation for the SCANA Corp. subsidiary, which has rolled back its nearly 10 percent original rate increase request twice over the past month after howls of protest from residents and business owners.

Six of the nine organizations and individuals who intervened in the case signed off on the latest plan, which calls for a 2.5 percent rise in rates in July, 1.2 percent in July 2011 and 1.18 percent in July 2012, according to SCE&G.

The latest proposal came just before the state Public Service Commission started a four-day hearing on the Cayce-based utility's rate hike plan.

In testimony Monday, Kevin Marsh, SCE&G's president, defended the company's original request for a 9.52 percent increase to pay for $1 billion in federally mandated environmental improvements to its coal-fired plants, a backup dam near Columbia, equipment upgrades, shareholders' returns and other items.

"We did not stack the deck coming in," Marsh said. "The company certainly didn't get everything it requested, but there was a meeting of the minds."

Under the latest proposal, a household would pay $5.79 more a month, or $69.48 year, for every 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity used. The original request would have cost similar customers about $140 a year.

The lowered rate schedule includes about $25 million collected from SCE&G's 655,000 customers during this past winter that would go back to them the first year and an additional $48 million in tax credits over two years.

The agreement also would reduce the amount of profit that the utility's shareholders would get from the next rate hike to 10.7 percent from 11.6 percent, and it would create a program to address abnormally high, weather-driven spikes in monthly electricity bills.

The increased power costs would come on top of an already approved average annual rise of 2 percent in electric rates over the next decade to pay part of the $10 billion cost of two new nuclear reactors north of Columbia.

SCE&G called the latest agreement "a consensus of support" that no contested issues remain among the signing parties.

Among those signing the latest stipulation were the S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff, which represents customers in rate cases, the S.C. Energy Users Committee, Walmart, Sam's Club, The Women's Shelter in Columbia, U.S. Navy and the head of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

Tom Clements of Friends of the Earth, one of the intervenors who did not sign the latest agreement, said he still has reservations about granting SCE&G all of its trimmed-down request.

"It's yet to be seen if the company has really learned a lesson about the public's concern in tough economic conditions," Clements said. "I do think the public speaking out has had quite an impact."

The Public Service Commission will rule on the rate hike proposal by mid-July.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Reach Warren Wise at 937-5524 or wwise@postandcourier.com.