This fall, Horry Electric Cooperative customers will start paying more for the power they use.
The utility will raise its rates an average of 3.1 percent, starting October 1st. The rates will be reflected in customers' November bills. Also, the facilities charge for residential customers will go from $8 per month to $15, said company spokesperson Penelope Hinson.
The facilities charge is the cost of service to the meter, a set rate per household that stays unchanged regardless of how much energy a customer uses.
"There's a certain cost to maintain the meter, to take care of the billing, administrative costs, etc.," Hinson said.
Horry Electric will also move to a seasonal rate structure, which Hinson said is an industry-wide trend. Summer rates will be higher than rates during winter months, due to increased costs during warmer months.
"The demand for electricity is much higher and fuel costs are much higher in the summer," Hinson said, "so we just split our rates to have them seasonal rather than one year-round rate."
It's the first rate increase for the utility since 2003. The cost of power since then has "skyrocketed," Hinson said.
"In 2005, we started sounding the alarms that wholesale power costs were going out of sight."
The average household that uses slightly more than 1,300 kilowatt hours per month will see a monthly increase of about $2 in winter months and $6 during the summer, Hinson said. The average winter bill would go from about $159 to $161. The average monthly bill during the summer would be slightly over $165, according to figures supplied by the utility.
That's enough of a rate increase to prompt complaints from some Horry Electric customers.
"We're already struggling as it is and then they're going to do that and it's just going to make it even harder," said Alinda Cox of Conway. Cox stays home to take care of a new baby and her boyfriend's job provides the family's only income. "It's kind of crazy. We already pay enough bills as it is," Cox said about the utility's rate increase.
Barbara DeGroat of Conway said the rate hike would have a serious impact on her budget. "Everything goes up, but the pay stays the same, so it's not easy to make your bills every month," DeGroat said.
Since wholesale power went up in 2005, Hinson said the utility has done what it can to reduce costs and hold the line on rate increases, including encouraging its members to take part in programs like Myusage.com (https://www.myusage.com/), which helps utility customers find ways to cut down on their energy usage.
"We try to operate as efficiently and effectively as we possibly can," Hinson said.
Horry Electric serves 64,000 customers, most of them residential and all within Horry County.