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Power bills to rise in January for Dominion South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Electric bills will go up by about 6% in January for Dominion Energy’s South Carolina residential customers.

The South Carolina Public Service Commission voted 5-1 for an unusual midyear rate increase Thursday, local news outlets report, making up for the higher-than-projected cost of coal and natural gas that the Virginia-based utility is paying.

A residential customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per month will see their bill rise from $132.79 to $140.53.

The rate increase is less than Dominion had sought. It filed in August to raise bills by 14% for residential customers, 17% for commercial customers and 27% for industrial customers. The lower increase was hammered out with the company by Public Service Commission staff.

Under the plan approved Thursday, commercial customers will see bills rise by 7%, while industrial customers will pay 11% more.

Dominion’s yearly rate is usually set in April, and the company warns that it will need another round of rate increases then because the increase approved Thursday will leave it a projected $400 million short of what it will pay for coal and natural gas to fuel its generating plants. Regulated utilities are traditionally entitled to recover the full cost of fuel from customers.

Dominion’s manager of regulation, Thomas Rooks, called Thursday’s increase a “measured step.”

“This is a fair proposal right now for customers,” Rooks said.

Commissioner Thomas Ervin voted against the rate increase, citing the company’s failure to set up a program using commodity market contracts to hedge against price increases, despite a commission request two years ago for Dominion to begin hedging.

“In the meantime, natural gas prices increased over 100% this past year, and I predict it’s going to increase again next year,” Ervin said.

Others agreed that the commission should have penalized the company for not doing more to seek fuel sources with less price volatility.

“Dominion has failed to tap into cost-effective solar that would have mitigated recent fuel cost spikes and saved customers millions on monthly bills,” said Kate Mixson, an attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center.

Dominion serves 780,000 customers in Columbia, Charleston and areas south and west to the Georgia state line. The company urged customers to contact Dominion if they need payment assistance.