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      Santee Cooper taking comment on 7 percent rate increase

      Santee Cooper is considering a rate hike for its customers. At a public hearing Thursday night in Conway, the plan was met with opposition. The company has proposed a 3.5 percent rate increase to take effect on Dec. 1, 2012. Another 3.5 percent increase would follow on Dec. 1, 2013.

      The last time Santee Cooper charged customers more was in 2009. The company deferred an additional increase the following year.

      "It had been thirteen years since we had a rate adjustment prior to that. So we really only go to the board and request the board to take a look at these proposals and the rate adjustments when it's absolutely necessary," explains Nicole Aiello, Santee Cooper Public Relations Specialist.

      Aiello says even though they've cut their operations and maintenance budget by $24 million, a rate hike is necessary to meet federal environmental regulations. "We're also building two new nuclear units with SCE&G at VC Summer nuclear station and those are really important because we need to diversify our fuel mix."

      At a public meeting Thursday night there were many empty seats, but two people challenged the hike. One customer suggested the increase be more gradual.

      Jacqueline Blakey expressed her concern about senior citizens, "They're not the only ones that go up on stuff and we don't get any more money. So I don't like any increase I know it's probably a neccessity but they gotta think about the seniors that are on fixed incomes that are struggling out here."

      Blakey says she'd like to see senior citizens like herself given a discount.

      "To just go up like that and expect the seniors are going to be able to pay it without a problem. I mean they may have to give up food or something or some of their prescriptions and stuff. You know is that a good thing? No. So they need to think about that and see if they can benefit or help seniors if they have to go up," she adds.

      According to Santee Cooper, the average homeowner using 1,000 kilowatts of energy per month will see their bill increase by $5.60 a month in the first year and an additional $8.29 the second year.

      Public backlash is minimal at this point, but Aiello says what customers have to say will be considered. "It does make a difference it does make a big difference. They listen to our customers. Our customers are extremely important to us and extremely important to the board we do encourage people to come out and tell us what they think or send us an email and let us know."

      The next hearing is scheduled for Friday at 2 p.m. at Coastal Carolina University's Waccamaw Higher Education Center on Willbrook Blvd. in Litchfield. Next week hearings are scheduled in Moncks Corner, North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach. To make comments through their website click here.

      The board will offer a final opportunity for public comments at its August 20, meeting at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.