The rate increase starting later this year for Santee Cooper customers will have an even greater affect on churches such as Pawleys Island Community Church.
“They’re going to categorize us as a corporation which has ways of passing [the additional cost] onto the consumer,” said Don Williams, senior pastor at Pawleys Island Community Church. “We don’t have that.”
Santee Cooper last week approved a rate increase for its customers but also changed the way some churches and nonprofits will be charged for power that likely will result in higher bills. Nicole Aiello, spokeswoman for the electric company, said that the church used to pay at a rate similar to residential customers with bills reflecting the amount of energy used. But, churches have changed.
“The rate was designed for customers like churches who used to use energy a lot differently,” she said. “They use it seven days a week now where they used to have services on Sundays and sometimes Wednesdays.”
Pawleys Island Community Church, and possibly others, will be switched into what’s called a “demand rate” based on set thresholds of energy use, Aiello said
“They’re no longer qualified for the non-demand rate because they’re using so much more energy,” she said.
Williams said the church understands the need to raise rates, but said the change to the demand rate complicates things.
“It’s not just a rate increase,” he said. “It’s the enormity of it that over a 10 year period it’s going to be 162 percent more expensive. That’s just a lot of money especially for a nonprofit.”
Aiello said Santee Cooper amended the initial decision and allowed for a transitional period for customers like Pawleys Island Community Church and is working to notify other customers of the coming changes.
“Based on their concerns, the board voted to modify the initial plan into a transitional rate,” Aiello said. “We looked at ways to transition into this new rate. We are working close with them because we understand it is difficult.”
The initial increase is about 3.9 percent, Aiello said.
Across the board, Santee Cooper is hiking rates by about 3.5 percent starting Dec. 1 with a second jump, also about 3.5 percent, on Dec. 1, 2013. The hikes, according to Santee Cooper, are necessary due to new, stricter environmental regulations and the generation of new power sources.
For residential customers using 1,000 kilowatt hours of energy in a month, the bill will rise by $5.60 each month the first year. The second year, there would be an additional $8.29 per month.
Aiello said Santee Cooper offers energy audits to show how energy use can be lowered and tries to educate customers about the potential rebate programs for more energy efficient equipment.
“We want to make them aware so that their utility bill won’t be as high,” she said.
Williams said the church actually budgets each year to help people in the community with utility bills like the monthly tab from Santee Cooper.
“We pay an average of $8,000 a year to help elderly, widows and single moms that need help to keep their power on,” he said. “We’re not just paying our [bills].”
With the surprise of the increase, he said there will be tough decisions to make over the coming years.
“It’s not going to stop us from doing ministry,” he said. “But, we’ll have to make decisions.”
He said the church will continue to give as generously as possible to the community, but may have to turn down organizations that want to use the church buildings.
“We’ve had high school graduations, we use it for elections,” he said of the facility that can seat up to 1,000 people. “When we call ourselves a community church, we really want to be in the community, of the community and for the community. We’ll have to make a decision on how often we let our building be used.”
Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381.