Driving Corporatist Snakes out of Mississippi Starting with the MS Power Kemper Coal Plant

by Dr. Tom Baldwin, Biloxi, MS

March 17,  2012

As I have just written elsewhere,  an enormous victory for the economic, health, justice and welfare for Mississippians has just been granted by the MS Supreme Court! And it  all occurred because some courageous and persistent people from the Sierra Club and their  supporters did not sit on their butts and instead got involved.  It should be a very important lesson for all of us.  It also has implications for other major corporatist  abuses going on in MS but are occurring under tables and behind closed doors.  This blog will spell out specifically the case involved with the big defeat of the Kemper Coal Power Plant.  But remember everyone, it ain’t never over ’til it’s over.

This case can be reviewed fairly simply though the process was hidden and distorted from public view as best the Mississippi  Power Company (and it’s parent company  the Southern Company of Georgia)  could  hide it.  In 2008, in the MS state legislature a bill was passed  Senate Bill  2793, signed by Governor Barbour, which permitted the Public Service Commision to include in its electricity rates the preconstruction of a scam like the one designed by MS Power.  Got  it yet,  folks?

The process was set in motion as then Governor Haley Barbour intended.  It is important to note that Haley Barbour’s lobbying firm BGR, which he founded in 1991 long before he was in public office and became Chairman of the Republican National Committee and more recently Chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association, had as a significant client the Southern Company of Georgia. If one reviews BGR’s records one will observe they have received millions of dollars in lobbying fees from Southern over many years.  Incidentally, almost the day Barbour  left office in January 2012, he went back as an employee of his lobbying firm, BGR.

How does this set the stage for what happened after the MS legislative  action in 2008? It’s fairly simple.  The Southern-MS Power companies conceived of new power plants to build in MS.  One  hairbrained scheme was to take advantage of the emphasis on “clean coal”.  They had an experimental facility in Alabama which had been sponsored by the Department of Energy.  They first  decided to expand that concept in Florida and it was  eventually rejected.  But  they had received a nearly $290 million  grant from the Department of Energy that needed to  be transferred or lost.  Thus, they came up with the real boondoggle of combining “clean coal” technology, mining of lignite coal in Mississippi, and producing unique energy from coal,  generating electricity, capturing carbon dioxide pollutants (and selling those) and everybody wins, right?  Good grief.

Now all MS Power had to do was convince the Public  Service Commission this was a great deal for citizens of MS, especially the ratepayers.  In the first round of PSC decisions in April 2010 they failed to get a positive vote because two of the three Commissioners voted no.  The cost MPC had proposed was $2.4 billion dollars but now the cost had been shoved onto the ratepayers thanks to the new law.  Incidentally, they were also unable to get private financing because private investors also considered it “too risky”.  Within a month,  one PSC Commissioner,  Leonard Bentz (Southern District),  had changed his mind.  Golly, I wonder what happened, don’t you?  The new  proposal which MS Power submitted had increased the price  of this atrocity to  $2.88 billion dollars.  Now it was considered less risky?  The MS Supreme Court didn’t think so in its latest decision.

Citizens simply do not understand this crap (no one should) even though they might be paying attention to some of it.  It has not been given adequate attention especially in the press in Southern MS.  Let me simply explain with three simple examples what it would have meant had MS Power been able to continue with their scam:  1)  It would have resulted in an “investment” of $1000 for every man, woman and child  in this state in their boondoggle with no guarantees of anything in return;  the consequences for ratepayers may have been three to ten times worse.  2) It would have meant that corporations like MS Power (Southern Co. ) would increase their assets by $2.88 billion dollars at our expense;  3)  It would have meant that their exercise of influence with state officials totally control our economic, health and well being and we are willing to watch it occur.

When  we at Occupy Biloxi got  involved at about the first of December 2011 we learned that even merchants were not  generally aware of how their  electricity rates were going to be dramatically increased while the Kemper Coal Plant was being built.  And no  one still has any idea of how if this “great experiment” doesn’t work how they will get their money back.  They should know, but don’t, people in Southern Mississippi were never intended to receive any benefits from it whether it worked or not.  It was a gigantic corporate scam, period, carried on by a collaboration between a major corporation and MS state government with Haley Barbour in  charge.

All of the citizens of Mississippi and  especially those in So. MS  owe an enormous  debt of gratitude to the Sierra Club and its supporters for “capturing” one of the  biggest “snakes” in our history and driving it out of town.  That’s the context of  this blog.  It’s quite clear to me now where our problem in this matter exists in So. MS and it is  with Leonard Bentz our Public Service Commissioner.  I am going to suggest we “Occupy Leonard Bentz” and see how that works.

Much more  will be written soon on related matters but  in the meantime I hope you had a  Happy St. Patrick’s Day, too!

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