But project, he says, ‘past point of no return’

Jun. 3, 2013   4 Comments 

Written by Geoff Pender
  • Brandon Presley, Public Service Commissioner

Brandon Pressley 

 Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley on Monday blasted Mississippi Power’s embattled and over-budget Kemper County coal plant, but noted the $4.3 billion project is “past the point of no return” and “too big to fail.” 

The decision has been made, and the train is on the track,” Northern District Commissioner Presley said. “I feel for those 185,000 customers on the Coast that are going to have to pay for this. Let’s hope it works.”

Presley spoke at the Stennis Institute of Government’s monthly press luncheon on Monday. Presley has often been the lone dissenting vote on the three-member commission as it has granted various approval for the “clean-coal” plant the company is building in Kemper County. The company had originally pledged to build the plant — much of which rate payers will finance — for $2.4 billion.

This is the greatest transfer of wealth from customers to a monopoly in the history of the state of Mississippi,” Presley said. “Where are all these so-called conservatives on that?”

The PSC this year approved a 15 percent rate increase for Mississippi Power customers to finance the plant, to be followed by a 3 percent increase next year. The company is expected to seek another 2 percent to 4 percent increase later.

Last month saw the abrupt departure of Mississippi Power’s president and a vice president shortly after the PSC learned documents about cost overruns were withheld. The company announced it was another $540 million over budget, but said shareholders of its parent, Southern Co. would cover those costs.

The state Legislature this year approved a bill allowing Mississippi Power to sell up to $1 billion in bonds for overruns.

Mississippi Power spokesman Jeff Shepard, in a written statement on Monday said: “Mississippi Power believes the Kemper County energy facility remains the best option to ensure clean, safe, reliable energy for our customers at a stable price for decades to come. … the company had a specific need for an additional baseload unit — a plant that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. … The project is a massive pioneer effort on the cutting edge of technology and is expected to offer significant long-term benefits to customers. We have worked hard to minimize the rate impact to our customers and we will continue to work with the PSC and provide any and all information they request as we continue the construction of this state-of-the-art facility.”

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Presley said he is unchanged in his belief that the plant was too ambitious for the company, and the technology untried. But power company and other state officials have said Mississippi Power needs to diversify its sources of energy and not be too dependent on natural gas.

Duke Energy is building a similar plant in Indiana. That plant, too, has seen delays and cost overruns, inflating its price from $1.9 billion to $3.5 billion, part of which ratepayers will cover with their utility bills.

Presley said that early on, former Gov. Haley Barbour, Gov. Phil Bryant and other conservative state leaders lobbied hard for approval of the plant.

Elected officials were saying, ‘Please pass this plant,’” Presley said. “But then they’ve been lockjawed and mute on the impact it’s having on the family budget and the small business budget. … I am just blown away by so-called conservative groups saying it’s OK to raise people’s utility rates. If there was a 20-percent increase in property taxes, they would be marching in the streets.

What’s awful and outrageous is a senior citizen on the Coast having to split a pill in half so they can pay their power bill,” Presley said. “This is an area already hit by Katrina and the BP oil spill.”

They want their monopoly status, but don’t want any, any, any responsibility to the rate-paying public … If this was such a wonderful idea, why didn’t they go to Wall Street and get the money instead of asking little old ladies and small businesses to put up the money?”



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