As SCE&G customers fret about paying for a nuclear project that won’t be built, a new federal report finds S.C. residents spent more for electricity last year than the residents of any other state.
S.C. residents paid an average of $1,753 last year for electricity, about $400 more than the U.S. average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s almost twice as much as residents of New Mexico, the state with the lowest residential electricity costs, the report said.
“It means the highest bills” are in South Carolina for electricity, EIA spokesman Jonathan Cogan said.
S.C. residents spent more, in large part, because they use more electricity than other forms of energy, including natural gas, energy experts said.
About 64 percent of the homes in the South rely on electricity. The national average is 40 percent.
Southerners also pay for both heat in the winter and cooling in the summer, compared to residents in Northern states who don’t have to rely on air conditioning in the summer, experts said.
For SCE&G and Santee Cooper customers, however, the failed V.C. Summer nuclear construction project may have been a factor in pushing the state to the top of the high-power bill list, one expert said this week. The two utilities spent more than $9 billion on the project before abandoning it July 31, citing rising costs.
“The state terribly mismanaged the costly construction and subsequent demise of the V.C. Summer nuclear project,” energy policy analyst Jordan McGillis told the news website Utility Dive. “Now, South Carolina ratepayers have been left holding the bag.”
Customers of SCE&G still are paying about $27 a month for the bungled V.C. Summer reactor project. That’s about 18 percent of their monthly power bills.
Santee Cooper customers are paying about $5 a month, or 4.5 percent of their power bills, for the nuclear project, the agency says.
Ginny Jones, a spokeswoman for SCE&G, said it’s difficult to compare customer prices because different utilities have different types of generating equipment and customers.
Electricity bills, for instance, can be determined by the type of fuel used — coal, solar, nuclear or natural gas — to produce power, she said. The use of heat pumps during cold winters, like the earlier part of this year, also generates higher energy use, Jones said in an email. Heat pumps are less suitable for particularly cold weather, she said.
Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore said, while the EIA data show high electricity bills, the amount that the utility’s residential customers pay per kilowatt hour is lower than the national and state averages. Statistics show SCE&G’s residential costs, per kilowatt hour, are higher than either Santee Cooper or Duke Energy, the state’s other major power provider.
Gore said any impact of the nuclear project on Santee Cooper power bills is negligible. “I don’t think nuclear contributed materially to the ranking.’’
State Sen. Nikki Setzler, the Lexington Democrat who co-chairs a committee that investigated the V.C. Summer plant failure, said that is hard to believe.
“Certainly some portion of it is related to V.C. Summer,’’ Setzler said. “But even without V.C. Summer, (costs) are higher than we would anticipate they would be compared to other states. That’s not a good thing. We want our people paying the most reasonable rates that are available.’’
Gore and Jones said a good way to cut power bills is by making homes and businesses more energy efficient.
Energy efficiency can include using refrigerators that use less power or better insulating homes to keep heat or air conditioning from escaping. Both utilities have energy-efficiency programs, some of which help customers pay for more efficient appliances.
“We work every day to help customers reduce their energy costs,” Jones’ email said. “We offer online and in-home energy usage analysis and we have a number of programs” customers can take advantage of.