A customer rate hike lawsuit that could have cost Santee Cooper hundred of millions of dollars has been settled for $7 million.

The utility will give its customers $22 rebates if they purchase an energy-efficient appliance. Without a purchase, customers will receive six energy-efficient light bulbs.

Gedney Howe III, the plaintiffs' attorney, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Don E. Watson of Myrtle Beach, the plaintiff, said he was happy with the outcome. "I think everything was fair," he said.

"We are not admitting any wrongdoing. We just think that it's in our customers' best interest to avoid the lengthy legal process and settle the case," said Laura Varn, corporate relations vice president.

The Moncks Corner-based utility was sued in 2007 over an electric rate increase in the mid-1990s that plaintiffs alleged was approved as a temporary increase to pay for a building program, but continued after the project was paid for. The suit affected 6,000 residential and business customers in Berkeley County. Most customers were in Georgetown and Horry counties.

The suit affected the utility's own customers, not electric cooperative customers using Santee Cooper power.

Reach Bo Petersen at bpetersen@postandcourier.com or 937-5744.