Utility Files for Rate Increase
The utility files a notice of intent with the PSC. After filing the notice of intent, the PSC may open a docket, assign a docket number, and post it on its Docket Management System (DMS). The Docket Number and schedule is listed on the PSC website. The utility then files a formal application, including specific financial and rate information, with the PSC to request a change in rates. New rates cannot be used by the utility until it receives PSC approval.
The PSC schedules the many legal steps which include deadlines for the publication of official notices to the public regarding the rate case, deadlines for intervention, and deadlines for pre-filing of testimony by participants in the case.
There are many reasons for a utility to file a to change its rates for service. Here are a few of the most common reasons for a change in utility rates and charges:
The utility has invested in a large amount of capital in its system, like a large electric generation plant, a sizable natural gas project, a new water treatment plant, or advanced metering infrastructure.
The utility has experienced an increase in its costs to operate and maintain its facilities.
The utility is not earning a sufficient return. Each utility is legally entitled to the opportunity to earn a specific return on their investments by the PSC.
The ORS Reviews Application
Each participant in the rate request is required to follow the schedule set by the PSC. The ORS is tasked with investigating and auditing. Generally, the ORS has three departments that take action:
The Audit Department audits the utility income, expenses, and other financial changes and makes recommendations to the PSC.
The Legal Department reviews the legal information, conducts discovery, files legal motions, and presents information to the PSC.
The Utility Rates and Services Department investigates the utility’s compliance with PSC rules and makes recommendations on the amount of revenue the utility should be allowed to recover from consumers.
The ORS can ask the utility to answer specific questions, ask the utility for more detailed information, ask experts to review information, and give information to consumers who are interested in the case. This information gathering is often referred to as “discovery.”
Written Testimony Submitted
The utility, the ORS, and intervenors make their case through written testimony filed with the PSC before a hearing occurs.
Public Hearing and Consumer Input Gathered
Consumers will be able to participate and let the Commissioners hear their concerns. The PSC often schedules public hearings, and consumers or intervenors can also request a public hearing to be scheduled.
Consumers can submit written comments through a Letter of Protest on the PSC’s website. Letters of Protest can be sent at any time after the utility submits its application. Letters of Protest often include information about how the rate change will impact the consumer and the quality of service the customer has received.
Letters of Protest will be placed in a public file associated with, but not part of, the formal record and can be referred to later on in the case.
PSC Merits Hearing Held
The utility, the ORS, and intervenors present their case to the PSC during the merits hearing.
Final PSC Order Issued
The utility, ORS, and intervenors review the transcript and records of the hearings and may file proposed orders and/or briefs with the PSC to summarize their recommendations
The PSC will then issue a final order with the decision on the rate the utility can charge.
After the PSC issues a final order, a party to the proceeding may appeal or ask for a different decision from the PSC by:
Asking the PSC to reconsider all or part of its decision; or
Asking the South Carolina Supreme Court to overturn all or part of the PSC’s order.