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One small step - UpstateToday.com

One small step

Gov. Henry McMaster recently signed a bill into law that would expand the purview of the Public Service Commission to a point where it could investigate matters of wrongdoing or other complaints about local electric cooperatives, like Blue Ridge Electric and others.

Don’t mistake our applause — we wrote just last month that Blue Ridge Electric was a great neighbor, and we still believe that today.

But that doesn’t indicate that all of their contemporaries are as well run or as well intended as Blue Ridge. They are not.

You see, even today, the vast majority of utility customers in the state of South Carolina aren’t protected by the state’s Public Service Commission — the entity charged with protecting the state’s utility customers.

You might recall Duke Energy officials just two months ago had to almost beg for a rate increase, and eventually received about one-third of the increase they requested.

We find it unimaginable that so many customers in the state of South Carolina are completely unprotected by the one and only state agency formed to protect them.

The PSC is constitutionally charged with protecting utility customers from unnecessary rate increases and charges. 

Utilities throughout the state must request rate increases through the PSC before they implement them — that is unless they are electric co-ops and municipalities.

Co-ops like Blue Ridge and cities like Seneca, Walhalla and Westminster aren’t required to request increases through the PSC.

Many leaders, including our own esteemed Sen. Thomas Alexander and Reps. Bill Whitmire and Bill Sandifer, think the current system is OK.

They think the fact that mayors and councils are elected by their constituents — or rate payers — is sufficient enough. 

We disagree.

Here’s the issue — two-thirds of the customers on both Westminster and Walhalla’s water and sewer systems are not located within the voting districts of those elected officials.

For instance, in Westminster, only 1,100 of the city’s 3,200 water customers live within the city, meaning only a third of the customers are represented by actual votes. 

Not coincidentally, the residents outside the voting bloc usually see the largest increases. 

This was true recently in Westminster, which recently saw residents both inside and outside the city limits hit with massive increases.

Walhalla customers pay some of the fastest and highest late fees in the state, and like Westminster, barely a third of their customers are actually voters.

In the coming weeks, we will be taking a look at the local utilities, their rates, fees, policies and procedures.

If Walhalla and Westminster had to clear their rates or their late fee policies by the PSC, would they be the same? 

Would they be able to get these rates and fees?

Or would the PSC have had better controls in place, forcing the cities to better manage their incomes? 

Who can say? 

We can say that we think that state lawmakers took a small step toward the right thing by giving the PSC authority over the co-ops, but it’s just that — a step.

The legislature needs to take the next few steps and put all utility customers in the state under its protection.

Until then, this was only a step. 

A leap is still required, and we won’t stop until we see it happen.