Thomas F. Farrell II

Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II plans to have new rates approved for SCE&G power customers by the start of 2021. Provided/Dominion Energy

You might want to turn down the thermostat, because you’ll be hot as fire after reading the next sentence.

Dominion Energy is already planning to raise your electric rates.

Feel the steam rising?

Yes, the Virginia utility that bought South Carolina Electric & Gas less than a year ago, the company that offered $1,000 rebate checks to every customer and then reneged, that then said the previously promised refunds would go toward keeping electricity rates low, has now decided it needs to milk us for more cash.

You know, besides the $2 billion in debt we involuntarily took on when Dominion took over SCE&G.

Thomas Farrell, Dominion’s chairman, president and CEO, told shareholders this month that “We are under-earning in South Carolina.”

But there are plans to increase those earnings. The company is playing coy for now, of course, but people in the know expect that, in May, Dominion will ask the state Public Service Commission for permission to raise electric rates by more than 10 percent.

South Carolina officials, as you might expect, have all had pretty much the same reaction to this news.

“Not a smart idea,” says state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis.

No, it’s not. Because Dominion’s 700,000-plus South Carolina ratepayers still haven’t gotten over being bilked out of more than $2 billion by SCE&G, which had the state’s permission to charge its customers upfront to build two nuclear reactors in Fairfield County.

The contractor failed to build the plants and, instead of reporting this, SCE&G (or its parent company, SCANA) just kept on taking everyone’s money ... for the bonuses and golden parachutes they knew they'd eventually need.

The company finally abandoned the project in 2017, but not before siphoning an average of more than $2,000 from each Lowcountry household. The Legislature investigated and eventually ordered the utility to reduce rates by 15 percent.

Dominion swooped in, bought the company for $15 billion, promising to make it all better and keep rates low … if customers would just keep paying off the remaining nuclear disaster debt for a decade or two.

And now Dominion wants to raise rates nearly back up to the level they were before all that malfeasance came out.

“Dominion came in saying they understood how people had been burned by SCE&G and wanted to build public trust,” says state Rep. Peter McCoy, who led the investigation into nukegate. “This is not the way to get the trust of the people. It’s a slap in the face to South Carolina ratepayers.”

Exactly. But the slap is coming.

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This is how it works: As a monopoly utility, Dominion cannot raise rates without approval from the Public Service Commission. But state law allows the company to make a profit, of course, and it can use legitimate expenses — such as the cost of new equipment and maintenance — in its rate increase case.

It can also argue that SCE&G hadn’t raised rates since 2012, which is technically true. Of course, that’s because the company had permission to charge customers upfront for costs associated with the nuclear plants’ construction, so it just raised the surcharge instead of going through “hearings” ... and following the “law.”

The only hope to stop Dominion from hiking our electricity rates is for the PSC to say no. And some lawmakers, who appoint the commissioners, say the PSC will be more consumer-oriented — or else.

“Have you noticed that no incumbents have kept their seats on the Public Service Commission?” says state Sen. Sandy Senn. “That is because 99 percent of us in the Legislature want a clean sweep so that the commissioners will not rubber stamp rate increases.”

And if Dominion doesn’t like that, Senn says, too bad. It brought this on itself by buying SCANA and taking on all the ill will toward it.

“We the public and we the Legislature will be watching much more closely than ever before,” she says.

That’s a pretty safe bet. It’s also likely that if Dominion does this, it will continue to under-earn in South Carolina, at least during the winter.

Because no one will need artificially generated heat to stay hot.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.