A new poll of South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G) ratepayers indicates strong support for both of the primary proposals submitted by Virginia-based Dominion Energy – which is tantalizing close to pulling off a hard-fought acquisition of the utility’s parent company, SCANA.
As we noted earlier today, members of the S.C. Public Service Commission (SCPSC) will determine the fate of this proposed merger a week from today, with political and market speculation coalescing around the acceptance of some variation of one of the Dominion proposals for the embattled utility.
(For our latest, most comprehensive recapitulation of the drama, click here).
Dominion has technically rolled out three different versions of its $15 billion deal for SCANA – a Cayce, S.C.-based crony capitalist energy provider – but there are basically two distinct options at play, a proposal offering some relief now, and another providing more relief over time.
Behind door number one? Average ratepayer rebates of $1,000 per residential customer and a long-term rate reduction of seven percent off of current bills.
Behind door number two? A long-term rate reduction of 15 percent – with no immediate rebates (other than what customers are likely to receive from a recently concluded class action settlement).
The latter proposal is more in line with what state lawmakers have indicated they prefer, which is why that proposal has received key legislative support.
Will ratepayers go for it, though? Especially after Dominion spent most of 2018 promising them big rebates? And after prior polling indicated strong support for that plan?
The answer appears to be “yes …”
(Click to view)
The poll we obtained – conducted by Alexandria, Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies – surveyed 300 SCE&G customers between November 27-29. According to its results, the long-term rate reduction plan is being received “the same or better” as the rebate plan.
Wow … color us surprised.
All told, awareness of the rebate plan is higher (76 percent) than awareness of the new plan (64 percent), however those who were surveyed indicated they supported the fifteen percent rate reduction (78 percent) more than the rebates (71 percent).
Go figure …
“We presented respondents with the two deals on the table,” pollsters noted in a memo accompanying the results. “When rated individually, the new deal is viewed just as positively and slightly better than the original deal.”
Again … that surprises us. We would have thought support for the rebate plan to be a clear favorite with consumers, although in fairness SCE&G customers have been subjected to a barrage of earned media in recent months – with most of that coverage skewed toward the legislature’s preferred outcome of lower rates over a longer period of time.
The rebates have been demonized in some corners.
“Mainstream press parroted a lot of legislative attacks on the rebates – including calling them payday loans,” one supporter of the original Dominion plan told us. “That had to have an impact.”
As for the merger itself, 61 percent of SCE&G customers indicated regulators should allow it to move forward compared to 20 percent who said they should block it and 19 percent who had “no opinion.”
“SCE&G customers are just as positive about the new deal as they are about the original deal,” the pollsters concluded. “In the end, after hearing about all of the options on the table and how SCE&G electric customers might benefit, two thirds … want this merger to happen.”
We’ll find out next week if regulators grant them their wish …
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