COLUMBIA, SC (FOX Carolina) - The SC Public Service Commission's hearing to determine whether or not to approve Duke Energy's request to raise rates began Thursday in Columbia.

The commissioners and Duke officials had some heated exchanges in the first session, a week after customers voiced their complaints about high bills, smart meters, customer service and a number of other issues during a series of public input meetings.

The main focus of the hearing is money, particularly, the commissioners are asking how much of an increase is too much?

In addition to requesting a usage rate increase of 12 percent, Duke also wants to raise the basic facilities charge, which is the amount customers are charged before they ever flip on the lights each month.

Right now, the BFC it sits at $8.29. Initially, Duke wanted to raise it to $28 for residential customers, but after a major pushback from customers, the Office of Regulatory Staff recommended the rate not be raised higher than 11.96 a month. Duke agreed to that.

"At the time we filed we absolutely believed that was the reasonable thing to do but having heard the feedback, certainly some of the testimony filed about gradualism, we took a second look and said perhaps that's not the right thing to do now,” said Kodwo Gharty-Tagoe, President, Duke Energy South Carolina.

Opponents still believe the hike is too much.

"It's still going to have a negative impact on energy efficiency, it's still going to have an impact on low income customers. It's still a 44 percent increase in a fee that no one can afford to pay,” said Shelley Robbins of Upstate Forever.

Duke, however, is still asking for the 12 percent increase on the rate for energy customers use.

Duke told the commission they need the money for coal ash basins, generating cleaner energy and keeping up with growing customer demands.

The commission has until May 8 to make a decision but said one could come as early as next week.

RELATED - After public input hearings, Duke Energy seeking lower base facility charge hike, not budging on proposed rate increase

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