Mysterious charge has many SCE&G customers crying foul

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Some SCE&G customers are crying foul.

"I feel like they're stealing from me," said Erika Harley. "I feel like they're stealing from everybody."

"We're stuck," said Trudy Shealy. "It's a monopoly. There's nothing we can do, but dang-gum-it, somebody's got to say something."

These customer's are saying something.  Erika Harley found it on her bill after landscaping the backyard.

"I run the pump 24/7 and I just wanted to see how much it was costing me," she said.

For David Huffstetler, it was after he expected a lower bill, because he was out of town.

"It was up $40 or $50, so I kind of looked at the bill," he said.

Shealy is careful of the energy she uses.

"My mom taught me turn out the lights when you leave a room," she said. "And when I bought this house it didn't have good windows in it, so I put good windows in it because I know that good windows will help you save electricity."

They're all frustrated. Not with the thermostat, over three letters, WNA, which means Weather Normalization Adjustment.

"During periods of extremely hot or extremely cold weather a customer's rate will be adjusted downward," said SCE&G spokesperson Stephanie Jones. "But during milder weather, such as we've been experiencing this winter, the rate will be adjusted slightly upward."

Shealy, Harley and Huffstetler noticed the upward adjustment.

"It still just boils down to charging for something I didn't use," said Harley.

"They said it is a fee they add on there when they don't make as much money during that month and I'm thinking, 'Well I'm trying to be conservative, green, cut my lights off, turn my heat down and you're charging me more because you didn't make as much money?'" said Huffstetler.

Essentially, it increases or decreases the price you're paying per kilowatt hour, based on a 15- year average of temperatures.  It's not just the weather. Other factors go in.  SCE&G breaks it down into 19 different WNA categories, based on your billing rate, house type, and the usage response to weather conditions.  Then they factor in the month, the billing cycle, and heating degree days and cooling degree days. 

"They may dispute this," said C. Dukes Scott with the Office of Regulatory Staff. "But I don't think there's but one person over there that understands it fully and that's the man who designed it."

It's not very obvious on the bills. You've likely overlooked it.

Here it is: a + (plus) means an upward adjustment, a - (minus) is a credit.

SCE&G said overall, customers have benefited since August of 2010.

"To the tune of $35 million collectively since the program was put in place," said Jones.

Collectively, but what about individually?

"What your perception is, or what the customers perception is, that over time they've paid more," said SCE&G spokesperson Eric Boomhower. "The rates have gone up more than they've gone down for this program, and the numbers don't support that, in fact they say just the opposite."

Not true.

When we crunched the numbers since the program began, of the three random customers who brought it to our attention, two eventually paid more with the program. Harley paid SCE&G $10 more, but Huffstetler paid more than $45 above his usage on a single property.

"I don't want the credit, or a debit," he said. "They're a major corporation. I do not want a major corporation, anybody else for that matter, do I want or need them managing my money."

We found during the trial period, customers were credited $94 million, but since according to the Office of Regulatory Staff, full inception benefits have swung in the company's favor some $60 million. 

"I asked them if I could opt out and they said no," said Harley.

AARP worked with the Office of Regulatory Staff to encourage SCE&G to conduct a study for the Public Service Commission due later this year on the program's outcome.

"I do think it needs to be modified," said Scott.

The program comes on five straight years of rate increases.  Harley, Huffstetler and Shealy encourage others to check their own bills.

"I installed all new double thermal double pane windows," said Shealy. "I have a thermostat that's programmed.  I have swirly light bulbs."

And do the math.

"I have places, that just have security lights," said Huffstetler. "I have places that just run a well, the Weather Normalization fee is on those bills too. I mean what's that got to do with my heating and air?"

And if you don't like what you see, contact the Office of Regulatory Staff to voice your opinion of WNA.

SCE&G is the only utility in the state right now doing a WNA adjustment.

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