Panel: S.C. utilities' flat rates encourage electricity waste

South Carolina state regulators ruled Friday that the state's two biggest utilities must immediately close a popular billing option to new customers because the programs encourage households to waste electricity.

The ruling didn't go as far as the state's attorney general and other critics had wanted when they asked the commission to discontinue the billing programs.

The decision by the N.C. Utilities Commission exempts more than 175,000 North Carolina households who are already signed up for the programs — called "balanced billing" by Progress Energy and "fixed payment plan" by Duke Energy. The ruling lets the existing customers continue and also re-enroll for additional years when their annual contracts expire.

Nevertheless, the commission said its ruling spells a slow death for the billing programs, because the utilities won't be able to replace dropouts with fresh recruits. The utilities say few people drop out.

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