Sept. 04--Beaufort County was one of the priciest places to buy gas in South Carolina this summer.
Last month, average prices in Bluffton and Hilton Head Island were 20 to 30 cents more per gallon compared to the state average, according to data from gasbuddy.com. Filling up a 15-gallon tank in most areas in Beaufort county on Friday, for example, cost at least $4.50 more than in Columbia.
Competition is the key to explaining prices at the pump, said Jeffrey Pelton, a senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com who worked in pricing at Hess gas stations for 10 years.
"When we priced our gas stations, the first thing (we) looked at was the local competition within two to three miles," Pelton said.
Large chain stores such as Costco, Sam's Club and Walmart are some of the most competitive retailers, Pelton said.
"They will actually lose money on gasoline to drive people into stores. So they can really change local prices," Pelton said.
Although Beaufort County has two Walmarts and a Sam's Club, it's offset by the rush of tourists. They drive up prices, especially on major roads and near attractions, experts say.
"Any time you have a travel destination, prices tend to be higher," AAA Carolinas spokesperson Tiffany Wright said. "That's why you see Charleston and Hilton Head with high prices and a place like Spartanburg with the lowest. There are less people with an incentive to buy there."
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Despite the price difference in Beaufort County, prices are still headed for historic lows in Beaufort County and across the state.
"You have to remember the big picture," Wright said. "In South Carolina, you are saving $1.10 to $1.15 more per gallon than you did last year."
South Carolina also regularly has some of the lowest average gas prices in the nation because of its lowest-in-the-nation gas tax. South Carolinians pay only 35 cents on the gallon in taxes compared to the U.S. average of about 49 cents.
Prices are expected to continue dropping 10 to 12 cents per gallon each month into the winter, Pelton said.
"In South Carolina you could be looking at really surprising prices by Christmas," Pelton said.
South Carolina is expected to see averages of about $1.50 a gallon, Pelton predicted, with some areas of the state paying just $1.30.
"(Because of) the amount of money people should have saved, we should expect some better Christmas presents this year," Pelton said.
Follow reporter Erin Heffernan at twitter.com/erinheff.
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