COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Dominion Energy agreed Monday to delay its request to raise electric rates in South Carolina for six months because of economic problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Virginia-based utility asked regulators to approve a 7.7% rate hike it said was needed to pay for improvements to the system in the state it bought from SCANA Corp. in 2019. The increase would collect an extra $178 million a year from Dominion's 750,000 customers in the state.

SCANA had to sell after losing billions of dollars in the construction of two nuclear plants that never produced power. SCANA customers endured several rate hikes to pay for the failed plants.

The South Carolina Public Service Commission was holding hearings this month to consider the rate increase, which was opposed by Gov. Henry McMaster and several groups from the AARP to business organizations.

The Office of Regulatory Staff, a state watchdog organization, asked Dominion to put the rate increase on hold for six months because of higher unemployment and other economic problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Dominion agreed and said it will spend the next six months trying to work out other problems with the rate increase with the watchdog group. If they can't reach an agreement, regulators will restart hearings to consider the increase in July.

“We appreciate the commission’s careful attention to this important matter and all parties’ willingness to work collaboratively,” the utility said in a statement Monday.