Columbia, SC – On Wednesday, the South Carolina Public Service Commission (PSC) unanimously ruled that Duke Energy Carolina’s (DEC) unpopular mandatory monthly fee hike will be far less than what the utility originally proposed, adjusted down to an amount recommended by the Office of Regulatory Staff. Public pressure and expert testimony led to Duke scaling back the fee hike as well as the PSC decision. The original increase was slated to be $19.71 for residential customers, but with yesterday’s decision customers will see a much smaller increase of $3.67 each month.
The Commission heard customers’ concerns and responded to them. Many of these concerns were amplified by a campaign that included the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), AARP of South Carolina, Consumer Reports, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, Sustaining Way, South Carolina Interfaith Power and Light, and other key allies. This was a true team effort and an example of a diverse set of allies working together to accomplish a positive result.
Advocates are gratified that the Commission sent a message that Duke Energy’s request was not aligned with South Carolina values. As stated in the Commission’s directive Wednesday: “… the CEO and executive team demonstrated they were “tone deaf” as to how a 238% increase in the Basic Facilities Charge would have negatively and adversely impacted the elderly, the disabled, the low income and low use customers. It is one of the reasons I am recommending a 75% disallowance of the CEO’s excessively high executive compensation for South Carolina during test year 2017 and a 50% disallowance for the next three highest Company executives …”
Advocates would have preferred that the increase in the mandatory monthly fee, the “basic facilities charge,” be limited to the same percentage as the overall rate hike, as recommended by expert witness testimonies filed by environmental, solar, and low-income group intervenors in the rate case. Unfortunately the Commission did not speak to this issue, nor did it explicitly rule that commission precedent mandates that monthly fees should only include basic customer costs to limit attempts to secure egregious hikes in mandatory fees again.
Chris Carnevale of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said, “It’s heartening to know that the Commission listened closely to the concerns of over a thousand customers who showed up at meetings across the state, and 1,600 more who have written letters or signed petitions to protest these unfair proposed fee hikes that would burden so many customers.”
Patrick Cobb of AARP, SC said, “More than 1000 rate payers turned out at hearing and raised their voices in opposition to an excessive increase for basic electric service. It is gratifying that the Public Service Commission took to heart the testimony and personal stories that these rate payers shared. The scaled back fees are due to the presence and pressure from rate payers.”
Shannon Baker-Branstetter, manager of cars and energy policy for Consumer Reports, said, “We applaud the Commission for listening to ratepayers and standing up to unfair fee hikes. This should send a message to utilities across the country that, if you try to hit your ratepayers with huge fee increases to cover failed investments, it can backfire, especially when your CEO is making more than $20 million a year.”
Holley Ulbrich of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina said, “The League of Women Voters is an organization dedicated to active citizen participation in government, including its regulatory functions. This response to the rate hike proposal was grassroots democracy at its best. Citizens participated, regulators listened, and the result was a decision that balanced the interests of all the stakeholders.”
Rick Joye of Sustaining Way notes that “While it took a lot of pressure from stakeholders and advocates from around the state, we are thankful that the state’s largest utility, Duke Energy, backed off its plan to triple its mandatory monthly fee, avoiding the overwhelming burden for lower income individuals to suddenly owe $336 per year before even turning on a light! Realizing that utility bills continue to become increasingly unaffordable, Sustaining Way will continue to fight for our most vulnerable residents.”
Since 1985, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has worked to promote responsible energy choices to ensure clean, safe and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. cleanenergy.org
AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With a nationwide presence and nearly 38 million members, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to families: health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment. AARP also produces the nation’s largest circulation publications: AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. To learn more, visit aarp.org or follow @AARP and @AARPadvocates on social media.
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit member organization that works side by side with consumers for truth, transparency, and fairness in the marketplace. The advocacy division of CR directs our efforts to secure strong pro-consumer policies and practices in government and across industries. consumerreports.org/advocacy.
The League of Women Voters of South Carolina is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to making democracy work and encouraging informed citizen participation in government. lwv.org/
Sustaining Way is an interfaith nonprofit that empowers individuals and communities using education, collaboration, and workforce development to build a thriving, sustainable community and environment. http://www.sustainingway.org/