CONWAY — A small crowd, mostly filled with officials, gathered at the Santee Cooper office in Conway Thursday night for the first in a series of public comment meetings about the utilitys proposed increases in electric rates over the next two years.
Santee Cooper officials say the planned changes would mean an increase of about $5.60 a month in the first year for typical homeowners who use 1,000 kilowatt-hours of energy a month. In the second year the rate hike would mean another $8.29 a month on average.
Jacqueline Blakey, a Conway resident, said she understands the proposed increase -- 3.5 percent on average in each of the next two years -- may be necessary, but said she hopes the board will consider seniors before making that decision.
Im already paying enough money and everything else goes up but our income, she said. Theyre not going to be the only ones that go up and we dont get anymore money. I dont like any increase. I know that its probably a necessity but theyve got to think about the seniors that are on fixed income that are struggling now.
Company spokeswoman Mollie Gore said there hasnt been a lot of response to the suggested changes yet, but the few that have written comments said times are still tough.
In general, I think they are pointing out that the economy is still not where wed all like it to be, she said. These are still tough economic times. Thats one reason we have emphasized our own cost controls and cutting everything here to put the recommendation off as long as we could. We know its a tough time.
Blakey said the seniors will struggle more than some because of the fixed income and slim chance of social security wages increasing.
Santee Cooper, the states largest power company, last increased its rates in 2009 by an average 3.4 percent and the current proposal is the second time a rate change has been recommended in the last 15 years, Gore said.
A rate increase was discussed for 2010 as a pairing for the 2009 hike but it was deferred, said Elaine Peterson, chief financial officer and executive vice president. The company is now at a point where not increasing power costs would put the company in the red, she said.
Not changing the rates would result in a shortfall of about $17 million in 2013 and $48 million, said Suzanne Ritter, treasurer and vice president of corporate planning for the power company.
Blakey said the increase will add up for her and that maybe discounts could be enacted for seniors who might not be able to find the extra cash.
New standards by the Environmental Protection Agency and the construction of two nuclear power units with SCE&G are the driving factors in the recommendation, Gore said.
The EPA regulations on air emissions have the Grainger Steam Plant in Conway in an idle state, Gore said. The building is being maintained, but has not generated any power since December. Gore said major and expensive upgrades would be required before operations could resume.
The nuclear plants are critical to the companys long term plans to diversify fuel generation and will help maintain low cost electric in the future, Gore said.
Conway resident Michael McCue wanted to know if the average 3.5 percent increases in each of the next two years could be extended further, perhaps over three or four years instead. Ritter said the company would monitor that, but did not say if it was a possibility.
Once the public comment period is over, the board will discuss the rates again and could make adjustments to that proposition, Ritter said.
Blakey said she wasnt surprised more people werent at the meeting Thursday. She said people dont think speaking out will matter.
People dont think that what they say is going to make a difference so they dont come out, she said. They should at least come out and tell people how they feel. It might help, but who knows.
Comments can be sent by mail or email through July 23 by visiting santeecooper.com/rates. The board will vote on the proposed changes at a Sept. 11 meeting. If approved, the first jump would be enacted Dec. 1.
Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381.