Stand up against rate hikes

Construction continues on two new nuclear reactors in Fairfield County in this file photo from December. (Provided)

Two new nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer site in Fairfield County might not go online for another four years, but plenty of South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. customers are already feeling the heat.

That’s because they now pay roughly 26 percent more on their power bills each month than they did when construction began in 2009. Much of that increase is related to covering financing costs associated with the new reactors.

And the percentage could go up in the fall if the state Public Service Commission authorizes the utility’s latest rate hike. If approved, it would be the seventh hike tied to construction on the reactors.

Worse, the state Office of Regulatory Staff announced last month that it will not contest revised reactor construction schedules and capital costs submitted by SCE&G in March.

Delays have pushed back the date the reactors will go online by at least a year and raised the estimated cost by nearly $700 million so far. While those setbacks won’t be reflected in this year’s rate hike, regulatory approval would allow SCE&G to potentially include them in later increases.

Approval now goes before the PSC. But before the commission makes a final decision, the public will have a chance to speak at a hearing 6 p.m. Tuesday at the PSC offices in Columbia.

SCE&G customers, who already pay the highest electric rates in the state and some of the highest in the Southeast, should make their voices heard.

The PSC has shown little stomach of late to seriously contest SCE&G rate increases, particularly related to the new reactors. And the Office of Regulatory Staff approval makes it even less likely that state regulators will put up much of a fight.

In other words, public turnout could be critical.

Customers who would like to speak out on the rate increase but can’t make it to Columbia on Tuesday, can submit comments to the PSC either by mail or online at www.psc.sc.gov.

South Carolina needs efficient, reliable, clean energy. But that energy must be affordable, and each rate hike imposes an additional financial burden on hundreds of thousands of SCE&G customers.

It’s time for those customers to make themselves heard.