Governor goes to bat for Dominion ratepayers
By Jerry Bellune
Dominion Energy's Lexington County ratepayers gained an ally this week.
Gov. Henry McMaster urged Dominion to withdraw its request to raise electric rates for 753,000 ratepayers.
Dominion’s $178 million rate hike will cost the average home owner $9.68 a month, an increase to $131.99 a month, according to the Office of Regulatory Staff.
The request is billed as 7.7% but is actually 7.91%.
The ORS offered a proposal that included an average increase of only a penny a month.
In a virtual public hearing last week, about 200 customers – less than 1% of Dominion’s ratepayers in Lexington and 23 other SC counties – signed up to testify.
The Public Service Commission gave Dominion up to Oct. 23 to notify its ratepayers of the hearings. This gave ratepayers 16 days to sign up, read and prepare to comment on Dominion’s 274-page request.
Gov. McMaster told Dominion’s President Rodney Blevins a 2-page letter that he can’t support Dominion’s request due to hardships caused by covid-19.
“A sizable rate increase at this difficult time would impose an unexpected and untenable burden on many South Carolinians,” McMaster said.
“As families work to overcome economic uncertainty and businesses small and large struggle to adapt and remain open during this pandemic, Dominion should not be seeking to increase its profit margin, particularly to 10.25%, which is well above the national average for investor-owned utilities.”
The utility giant filed its request in August with ORS to increase its rates on about 753,000 customers to about 7.7%, a monthly increase of $9.68 for the average residential customer. That would come out to an average monthly bill of $131.99,
Dominion would raise an additional $178 million from the 7.91% rate hike, its application reads.
McMaster wrote that he is willing to work with Dominion but will ask the PSC to reject the rate hike.
Dominion Vice Presidet Rhonda O’Banion said the utility takes seriously the governor's concerns but doesn't agree.
O’Banion said, “We have been helping our customers who are struggling financially through the pandemic. Our customers also count on us to keep the electricity flowing safely and reliably, and we made our filing to continue to meet this obligation.”
Dominion has waived late fees, did not disconnect ratepayers for late payment nor charge reconnection fees.
A PSC decision is expected in early 2021 and rates could go into effect in March.