COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – For more than 700,000 private utility customers in South Carolina, $ 1,000 remittance checks are not mailed.
A year ago, Dominion Energy proposed to write a one-time cash payment of $ 1,000 to an average South Carolina Electric & Gas customer if legislators made it easier and regulators approved their merger. They spent millions of dollars touting the checks on ads that appeared to be running on all local news and TV shows.
During the merger negotiations, Dominion executives, consumer groups and regulators decided to reduce electricity consumption rates over 20 years from approximately $ 20 per month to the current rate. discount. They said it would be a bigger advantage over a much longer period than the one-time payment.
However, many customers continue to burn these $ 1,000 checks, and Dominion is faced with another advertising blitz in the coming weeks, this time featuring the Virginia-based company to its new South Carolina customers and their explaining that checks are money. t come.
"We understand that some customers will be disappointed that the refund checks are not included in the final approved plan, but we believe that customers and South Carolina will benefit from lower payments," said Dominion's spokesperson. Rhonda Maree O & # 39; Banion.
Some lawmakers, particularly those representing the poorest districts, feel that the Dominion has bitten their constituents, pushing hard for African-American support and then backtracking on their promises. The original ads touting the rebates encouraged viewers to call their lawmakers and lend their support to the merger.
"You seem to be trying to advertise to the black community to convince us of this $ 1,000 charity," Sen. Democrat Margie Bright Mathews of Walterboro told Dominion officials attending a meeting. of the black legislative caucus.
"Your first goal has been to get black lobbyists, go to black colleges and advertise on black radio," she said.
SCANA Corp., the parent company of SCE & G, was looking to sell because it had spent $ 5 billion on the construction and design of two nuclear reactors that never produced a watt of power. South Carolina law allowed the utility to blame all of this debt on the backs of its customers, although the merger agreement reduces the share of this customer debt by about half, resulting in a reduction monthly bills.
But the lowest bills may not last long. Dominion may request a rate increase of its base generation and power distribution costs in early 2021. Former SCE & G customers have not seen the base cost of energy increase since 2012, even though There were several nuclear power station tariff increases.
Consumer advocates warn that any such increase could be massive and that if the rebates had been paid, the electricity bills would have been even higher without monthly lightening.
"In the longer term, it was more important for people to pay lower rates," said Frank Knapp, president of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and a frequent critic of SCE & G's management.
Hearings on further rate changes will begin in 2020.
In the meantime, the majority of lawmakers and regulators do not appear to be attempting to review the terms of the merger and the possibility of rebates, although the Public Service Commission asked Dominion to do so. explain exactly what she was doing to inform customers. there was a change in plans.
The Democratic representative Wendell Gilliard of Charleston said the bad taste of the lack of discounts left some of his constituents wondering if anything with the electricity company would change even in the absence of SCE & G and SCANA.
"Dominion is on the same footing as SCANA," said Gilliard. "This is not good."
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