Public Service Commission orders end to SCE&G's bill-adjusting program



COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s utility regulatory agency on Wednesday ordered an end to SCE&G’s complicated bill-adjusting program.

The utility will discontinue its Electric Weather Normalization Adjustment following the unanimous vote by the seven-member Public Service Commission. Beginning in January, customers’ bills will reflect their actual electricity usage.

“This is a good holiday gift for folks,” said Patrick Cobb, a spokesman for AARP South Carolina, which intervened on members’ behalf.

The program was designed in 2010 to protect customers against billing spikes during extreme weather. But the agency that represents the public in utility issues said last month it’s so complex, only SCE&G can determine if customers are being correctly charged.

It’s a good idea in theory, but worrisome that only the utility can make and verify the calculations, said Dukes Scott, who heads the Office of Regulatory Staff.

SCE&G later filed a joint petition agreeing with that agency’s recommendations to end it. AARP also signed on to the agreement.

But the Public Service Commission had the final say. The last adjustments will be made on bills issued from December meter readings.

The commission also agreed to let SCE&G spend up to $300,000 to promote its budget billing program, which averages customers’ usage costs over a year. The three-stage campaign will extend into mid-2014.

AARP state director Teresa Arnold has called it a better, budget-friendly payment option than the constantly fluctuating rates that made bills nearly impossible to understand.

“It’s a great opportunity for folks who have been in the roller-coaster billing cycle to have some kind of normal billing process,” Cobb said of Wednesday’s decision.

Under the adjustment program, approved in 2010 following an unusually cold winter, electricity rates are lowered during months when temperatures are hotter or colder than usual and raised during milder-than-normal temperatures.

According to last month’s Regulatory Staff report, SCE&G applied nearly 22,000 weather-based adjustment factors to customers’ bills between the program’s launch in August 2010 and August 2013. Calculations are based on 19 different equations for different groups of customers, with each group having 20 separate billing cycles. So customers have been billed differently even within the same category.