On Tuesday, August 6th, the Public Service Commission of South Carolina hosted a generic workshop to explore currently-existing consumer relief programs in South Carolina. Over the course of three hours, the Commission learned about the methods employed by utility providers that benefit South Carolina’s utility consumers and ensure everyone has access to utilities—and that no individual is unable to afford their bill. That last point is particularly of relevance in our state; presenter Sue Berkowitz of the SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center mentioned that a recent study from the Eviction Lab at Princeton University calculates North Charleston as having the highest rates of evictions in the United States, with the Columbia area also in the top ten. She also presented several hypothetical budgets for SC families to demonstrate the need for ratepayer relief programs.
Representatives from Duke Energy Progress and Duke Energy Carolinas, SC AARP, the SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center, Dominion Energy South Carolina, South Carolina Electric Co-Ops, and South Carolina Telephone Coalition attended and presented, and Commissioners hosted discussion to help determine the efficacy of each program and potential ways to develop these programs for the continued benefit of all South Carolinians.
Among the programs discussed by the companies:
- Customer assistance funds: as expressed in Duke Energy Carolinas/Duke Energy Progress’s Share the Warmth and Energy Neighbor Fund, these programs collect one-time contributions from customers, who opt in to the program, and distributes those funds to local community organizations
- Weatherization projects: companies, notably Dominion Energy South Carolina, subsidize the cost of core weatherization improvements to houses and mobile homes for South Carolina residents.
- Home Works: both Dominion and SC Co-Ops have dedicated funding to Home Works, which provides basic sanitation renovations for needful consumers.
- Operation Round-Up: Started in Palmetto Electric Cooperative in 1989, this program has contributed more than $7.6 million in grants in Beaufort, Jasper, and Hampton Counties. The program takes applications from both individuals and organizations and has helped over 5,000 individuals and 500 local charitable organizations.
The round-up model, in which participating consumers can choose to have their bills rounded up to the nearest dollar and the funds thus generated earmarked for programs that benefit other consumers, has been implemented in over 200 co-ops in the United States. Please note that, while some South Carolina co-ops currently have similar programs enacted and some utility companies offer corporate giving programs and other charitable programs, these bill round-up programs are not currently operated within the PSC’s jurisdictional utilities. In other words, the workshop was designed to find out more about these programs, to study potential models, and for Commissioners to ask questions of experts who have studied these programs in the past. If you’d like to see more, the complete recorded meeting can be found at this link.
For more information about this workshop, please contact the Chief Clerk’s Office of the Public Service Commission at 803.896.5100.