Brandon Presley: Consumers lost in Mississippi Power’s planned Kemper County plant | Better MS Report

Brandon Presley: Consumers lost in Mississippi Power’s planned Kemper County plant | Better MS Report.

From Better Mississippi Report:

JACKSON (Tuesday, July 6, 2010) – Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley says consumers lost in Mississippi Power Co.’s planned Kemper County coal plant because the utility doesn’t have to guarantee the technology behind the project will ever work.

Mississippi Power’s plant, the first of its kind in the world, will use a new technology that converts a soft coal called lignite into a gas to fuel turbines and create electricity. The concept is high risk because no one can guarantee that the technology to be used in the plant will work.

Presley said Gov. Haley Barbour and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu sent letters asking for support of the Mississippi Power plant. But Presley voted in April and May against forcing Mississippi Power ratepayers to finance the plant.

“I received letters urging me to support the project from everyone from Gov. Barbour to Steven Chu, secretary of energy in the Obama administration,” said Presley, who represents the Northern District on the three-member PSC.

“If they thought it was such a good project, why didn’t they find a way to pay for it rather than forcing Mississippi Power’s customers to be the sole investors in the plant?” Presley told the Better Mississippi Report.

The PSC voted 2-1 in April to allow Mississippi Power Co. to build the Kemper County plant at a cost of no more than $2.4 billion. Commissioners said they would decide at a later date whether to grant Mississippi Power’s request for ratepayers to finance the plant before it begins operating.

Less than a month later in May, the PSC voted 2-1 to increase the cost cap of the Mississippi Power plant to $2.88 billion and also allowed the company to charge ratepayers for financing costs before the plant is completed.

Presley cast the sole no votes at the April and May meetings.

Presley, 32, a lifelong resident of Nettleton, is in his first term on the PSC – winning the position in 2007 after serving as mayor of Nettleton from 2001 to 2007. He talked about the Mississippi Power plant and other issues in an interview with the Better Mississippi Report.

Better Mississippi Group: You were the only member of the Mississippi Public Service Commission to oppose the Mississippi Power Co. plan to build a coal-burning plant in Kemper County. Can you explain your concerns about this proposal and why you voted against it?
Brandon Presley:
Very simple. Mississippi Power wanted the ratepayers to pay in advance hundreds of millions of dollars in financing costs and then $2.4 billion (now up to $2.88 billion) for the plant itself, and after hours and hours of sworn testimony and days of hearings they would not, and to this day, still will not, guarantee their new technology to be used in this plant will work.
If I had voted yes for this plant, I would have been a part of forcing ratepayers in one of the poorest states in the nation to pay, in advance, for something the company can’t even guarantee will work and that was, obviously, a big concern to me. I strongly support innovative technology, and I have a deep admiration for the scientists and engineers who bring about groundbreaking ideas that could make our lives better. But I believe the companies themselves and private sector investors should be willing to take some of the risks and not force all the risk on ratepayers who don’t have a choice in their providers. Remember, customers of Mississippi Power can’t choose who provides their electricity. They must use Mississippi Power or be in the dark, literally. So they are now being forced, via their electric bill, to invest in this plant.
I received letters urging me to support the project from everyone from Gov. Barbour to Steven Chu, secretary of energy in the Obama administration. I wondered if they thought it was such a good project, why didn’t they find a way to pay for it rather than forcing Mississippi Power’s customers to be the sole investors in the plant?
Also, I felt strongly that since there are so many unknowns out there, especially about the technology itself, that nothing would have been harmed by waiting. As I have said, Henry Ford built a better car five years after he started on his first one.
In a few years, we should have a better idea about other discoveries going on now, such as the impact of shale natural gas and also about the technology in the plant. Maybe then Mississippi Power will be able to guarantee that it will work. In a few years, we should also have a better understanding of the current energy legislation and environmental regulation that is being debated in Washington.
If Mississippi Power is going to ask consumers to pay up to $2.88 billion, plus hundreds of millions in banking fees (before the plant puts out any electricity), they need to have their ducks in a row with technology that they can guarantee works and share some of the risk. They didn’t. So I voted “no” twice.

Better Mississippi: The vote was a total change from a stand the PSC took days earlier. Can you tell us what led to the about-face on the PSC?
Presley:
I’ve been consistent – I voted no both times. You would have to ask the other two commissioners that question. Even though I could not support the project after hearing and studying the facts presented to us for months, I felt the first order on April 29th was strong and at least had some good protections in it for the ratepayers. I do not know why the majority voted to ease up on that order and grant the company another $480 million in spending authority under certain circumstances.

Better Mississippi: Mississippi Power Co. won’t release the possible increase in electric rates that customers may have to pay to finance construction of the Kemper County plant. Is this something that should be released to the public? Why?
Presley:
Absolutely. They should have been disclosed before the plant was approved. It was one of the reasons I voted against the project. Two times before the final votes, I asked if the rate impacts were going to be made public before the project was approved, and both times the answer was “no.”
The customers of Mississippi Power have a right to know how this plant is going to impact their bills. They shouldn’t have to wait until they get the bill out of their mailbox to understand how much it is going to cost them. I had proposed changing the rule that allowed Mississippi Power to deem these rate impacts “confidential” prior to the final vote on Kemper. I raised the issue of changing this rule in May but was out-voted. The issue was taken up in our June meeting, at which time it passed unanimously.

Better Mississippi: With the Sierra Club taking the Mississippi Power Co. Kemper County issue to court, how do you see things working now? Will this be a long, protracted case?
Presley:
All I know is that I will keep fighting for taxpayers and ratepayers no matter what happens.

Better Mississippi: You are one of three commissioners on the PSC. Can you tell us about your relationship with the other commissioners? Do you all tend to get along? How do you handle disagreements on major issues, such as the one with Mississippi Power Co.?
Presley:
I like my fellow commissioners and think they’re good men. As with any three-member commission, we are going to disagree from time to time.
With that said, I tend to be very passionate about the job the people elected me to do. I’m passionate about what I believe a regulator is supposed to do. I won’t back down when I believe consumers are getting a raw deal or when I see something unfair about the process. I think that’s what the ratepayers expect and it’s certainly how an elected official who is protecting the public’s interest should act, in my opinion.
When you have the courage of your convictions, you don’t mind going against the grain or standing alone. I recently heard a pretty good saying that fits this situation, “Even a dead fish can go with the flow.” I don’t plan to be a “go with the flow” commissioner.

Better Mississippi: What do you see as the biggest challenge of the PSC these days?
Presley:
The single biggest challenge is making sure that consumers aren’t left out of the picture at the PSC. It seems that almost every rate plan, service plan, rule and regulation was written for and by the utilities for their benefit. Too many times the people who actually have to pay the utility bills have just been left out of the process and forgotten. The simple fact is that if the PSC doesn’t stand up for the consumer, nobody else is going to.
We desperately need balance at the PSC. And by that, I mean that we need to remember that there are real people, families, small businesses and industries that have to pay for these rate hikes and proposals. The utilities have a vast reservoir of attorneys, lobbyists, experts and cheerleaders. All the general public has is the PSC.

Better Mississippi: What do you see as the most important regulatory issues facing the PSC and consumers in the state?
Presley:
So many Mississippians are facing very tough economic situations in their homes and at their businesses. My mission is to do everything possible to keep money in the pockets of taxpayers and ratepayers and not help the big utilities make undeserved profits. That is our single biggest challenge. I believe we can craft policies that are pro-consumer and pro-business. Letting utilities increase rates whenever they want hurts so many small businesses that are the backbone of our state’s economy. I am proud to say that I have voted against more spending and rate increases than any other commissioner in the history of the PSC.

Better Mississippi: How do you see your role on the PSC?
Presley:
I see my role as a watchdog for the public interest – period.
A commissioner I’ve gotten to know from another state says it best. One time, when the hearing room was full of attorneys and high-paid lobbyists for the utility companies, he called the meeting to order by asking everyone who was there on behalf of the utilities to please stand up. Almost the whole room, of course, stood to their feet. Then he told them to sit down. He then asked, “Who is here on behalf of the ratepayers?” Nobody responded and he stood up and said “You see, folks? That’s why I’m here. That’s my job.” I couldn’t agree more.

Better Mississippi: Statewide and district elections will take place in 2011. Do you plan to run for re-election? Why or why not?
Presley:
I honestly haven’t given it much thought. I’m consumed daily with issues at the PSC and getting my job done. I will make a decision about the election in the coming months.

 

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More on Obama’s US Secretary of Energy who Targeted PSC’s for Kemper County

Dr. Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy

As United States Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu is charged with helping implement President Obama’s ambitious agenda to invest in clean energy, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, address the global climate crisis, and create millions of new jobs.

Dr. Chu is a distinguished scientist and co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics (1997). He has devoted his recent scientific career to the search for new solutions to our energy challenges and stopping global climate change – a mission he continues with even greater urgency as Secretary of Energy.

Prior to his appointment, Dr. Chu was the Director of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, where he led the lab in pursuit of alternative and renewable energy technologies. He also taught at the University of California as a Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology. Previously, he held positions at Stanford University and AT&T Bell Laboratories.

Dr. Chu’s research in atomic physics, quantum electronics, polymer and biophysics includes tests of fundamental theories in physics, the development of methods to laser cool and trap atoms, atom interferometry, the development of the first atomic fountain, and the manipulation and study of polymers and biological systems at the single molecule level. While at Stanford, he helped start Bio-X, a multi-disciplinary initiative that brings together the physical and biological sciences with engineering and medicine.

The holder of 10 patents, Dr. Chu has published nearly 250 scientific and technical papers. He remains active with his research group and has recently published work on general relativity and single molecule biology and biophysics that includes sub-nanometer molecular imaging with optical microscopy, cadherin adhesion, neural vesicle fusion, and nerve growth factor transport. About 30 alumni of his research group have gone on to become professors in their own right and have been recognized by dozens of prizes and awards.

Dr. Chu is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Academia Sinica, the Korean Academy of Sciences and Technology and numerous other civic and professional organizations. He received an A.B. degree in mathematics, a B.S. degree in physics from the University of Rochester, and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley as well as honorary degrees from 15 universities.

Dr. Chu was born in Saint Louis, Missouri in 1948. He is married to Dr. Jean Chu, who holds a D.Phil. in Physics from Oxford and has served as chief of staff to two Stanford University presidents as well as Dean of Admissions. Secretary Chu has two grown sons, Geoffrey and Michael, by a previous marriage.

In announcing Dr. Chu’s selection, President Obama said, “The future of our economy and national security is inextricably linked to one challenge: energy. Steven has blazed new trails as a scientist, teacher, and administrator, and has recently led the Berkeley National Laboratory in pursuit of new alternative and renewable energies. He is uniquely suited to be our next Secretary of Energy as we make this pursuit a guiding purpose of the Department of Energy, as well as a national mission.” Dr. Chu was sworn into office as the 12th Secretary of Energy on January 21, 2009.

http://www.energy.gov/organization/dr_steven_chu.htm

Pressure from Obama’s Energy Czar for MS PSC and So. Company to Compromise for Cap and Trade

U.S. Energy Secretary Wants Kemper Approval

by Amy McCullough

Published: May 7,2010

The Energy Daily reports today that U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu hopes the Mississippi Public Service Commission and Southern Company can strike a compromise on a proposed $2.4 billion clean coal plant to be built in Kemper County.

The Mississippi Commission voted April 29 to allow the plant to go forward if Mississippi Power Company (a division of Southern Company) agreed to cap costs at $2.4 billion. MPC had previously proposed a cost cap of $3.2 billion. The Commission also turned the company down on its request to put Construction Work in Progress (CWIP) in rate base – or charge customers for plant financing costs before and during plant construction.

“The (Southern) project is also a large-scale project but it’s now in jeopardy. I just hope that Southern Co. and the (Mississippi) commission come to a compromise agreement…” Chu said, according to The Energy Daily.

Chu spoke Thursday at the Obama administration’s Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) – a task force charged with overcoming barriers to CCS within 10 years, with a goal of bringing five to 10 commercial demonstration projects online by 2016.

MPC has said the Commission’s restrictions “seem to make it impossible” to move forward with the plant and that the denial of CWIP would not allow them to operate in a financially responsible manner.

The Kemper plant would be the first U.S. plant to demonstrate CCS on a commercial scale. Southern Company first pursued a similar project, the Orlando Gasification Project, in Florida. After the state cancelled the project, Southern then gained permission to transfer $270 million in U.S. Department of Energy funds to Mississippi to pursue a clean coal project with CCS here.

Kemper would gasify Mississippi lignite, a lower rank coal, and then burn the gas to produce electricity. The company also plans to sell the plant’s captured carbon for Enhance Oil Recovery projects. In EOR, gas can be injected into depleted oil fields at high pressure to increase the amount of petroleum that can be extracted.

http://msbusiness.com/2010/05/us-energy-secretary-wants-kemper-approval/

Obama, Van Jones, Barbour, Bentz, & Posey

Van Jones and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu are both on Obama’s payroll to lead the progressive movement for Economic Justice.  The chickens-have-come-home-to-roost right here in Kemper County Mississippi.

Prepare for your electric bill to increase up to 45% starting Jan 1, 2012. I think this delay is to assure successful reelections of the submissive PSCs.  Bentz, PSC South District, said the economy will rebound by 2012 and that is why he waited to raise rates.  Really?

The Kemper CAP AND TRADE project is slightly funded by Obama’s stimulus package for Green jobs.   When our Public Service Commissioners initially set financial limits to Mississippi Power’s estimate for construction,  Mississippi Power concluded the project could not proceed. ( I understand MSP has horrible credit and cannot get a loan.)

So at that junction, I understand, our PSC’s  could place the burden on families to fund the billions or Obama takes his cap and trade and shoves it to some other gullible state.  (Not Florida they rejected it)  That is where U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, with Obama’s  magic comes in.

Please see the article on Steven Chu and his vodoo-like ability change the minds of Leonard Bents and Lynn Posey to suddenly approve the most widespread economic destructive path starting with gullible Mississippi.

Power’s High Price Will Cost Jobs PSC LEONARD BENTZ:

PSC COMMISSIONER LEONARD BENTZ: Power’s High Cost Will Cost Coast Jobs

Sunday, February 08, 2009 12:53 PM

(Source: The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.) tracking By Mary Perez, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

Feb. 8–Leonard Bentz knows this week he has to sign off on a fuel-cost adjustment requested by Mississippi Power and he knows it will mean job losses in South Mississippi.

“I believe I’ve had every single casino call me,” said Bentz, chairman of the Mississippi Public Service Commission. He said they’ve told him, “The fuel-price increase is going to make us have to lay people off.”

Mississippi Power has requested a 9.2 percent increase for residential customers. The increase is higher for commercial and industrial customers because fuel costs make up a larger portion of their bills.

For Northrop Grumman it could mean an increase of $2 million this year. Beau Rivage Resort and Casino faces a $700,000 to $800,000 increase and Island View Casino around $300,000.

“Those are just some of the numbers we are hearing,” said Bentz.

He tells everyone who calls him about the increase, “If you have an idea, please give it to me.”

Bentz said, “I should have signed that order two months ago. I’ve not allowed them to put the new fuel prices in place yet.”

Business owners knew the increase was coming. In July and August representatives from Mississippi Power gave all major business customers an estimate of the increase, said company spokeswoman Cindy Webb.  (I strongly question the effectiveness of this communication, for I have asked multiple Business owners and members of Chamber and rarely did one say, “oh yes I heard about it.”  And no one said MS power told me.)  In November, when the utility filed for the fuel-cost adjustment, representatives went back and gave the businesses specific costs.

“It’s our annual true-up on fuel,” said Webb. It’s not the largest annual fuel adjustment. That was 10 percent in 2006. In 2008 Mississippi Power customers paid a 4 percent fuel-adjustment increase, and Webb said there were decreases in 2002 and 2003.

“It depends on the fuel markets,” she said.

Mississippi Power Company hasn’t had public hearings on fuel increases, but Bentz scheduled one for Dec. 29 in Gulfport. Only a handful of residents and business owners attended. (that is because no one knew about the meeting.  Bentz cares more about his no call list than a change that will affect the homes of every Mississippian.)“It was not the best time in the world to have a hearing,” Bentz said, “but I wanted to have a public hearing anyway.” He said at the meeting the dollar-for-dollar “pass-through,” in a regulated market such as Mississippi’s, allows the utility to pass on the cost of doing business to the customer. If the company spends $100 million on fuel and is allowed a rate of return of 10 percent, the company can bill the customers for the additional $10 million.

“Mississippi Power Company can only earn what the state regulators allow them to earn,” Bentz said.

Mississippi Power uses coal and gas to operate its power plants.

Mississippi Power CEO Anthony Topazi said gas was up 100 percent in 2008 and coal was at an all-time high.

“I’m spending more to provide the same amount of energy,” he said.

When the prices were steadily climbing last year, the company negotiated multi-year contracts on the futures market to lock in the cost and be assured a supply of coal and gas.

“It’s a great deal when you lock that contract price in and the prices skyrocket,” said Bentz.” It’s a horrible deal when you lock that price in and the prices go down,” as they did in this case.

Bentz said he doesn’t have the staff or the $1 million it would take to do an audit to see if the utility paid the lowest price possible for fuel.

“There needs to be a disincentive, or some type of incentive to the power company for purchasing fuel the cheapest they possibly can do it,” he said.

It won’t be just the customers who feel the pinch. Bentz said, “I told Anthony (Topazi) the other day, ‘Y’all need to put these planes on the ground,'” referring to corporate aircraft.

Bentz added, “Profitmargins are not going to be what they were in the good years,” and he said, “I don’t believe bonuses are going to be paid to the amount that they’ve been paid.”

Webb said Mississippi Power has a hiring freeze and, “we are doing everything we can to control costs. We’re looking at the things we can do that won’t impact customerservice.”

If Bentz doesn’t sign the increase, he said, the Mississippi Supreme Court would most likely overturn that decision and grant it anyway, as the court has done in the past.

He can amortize the increase over 12 months or possibly two years. “When you do that, it’s just like putting it on a credit card,” he said, with the customers paying the carrying costs.

“It’s a crap shoot,” he said. “If prices keep going down it’s a great thing. But if they keep going up, you’re just compounding costs on top of each other.”

—–

To see more of The Sun Herald, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sunherald.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

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via PSC COMMISSIONER LEONARD BENTZ: Power’s High Cost Will Cost Coast Jobs.

Mississippi Coal Comments are in Red and added for commentary

Commissioners: Law allowing utility to hide rate impact unfair » Mississippi Business Journal

 

 

Two out of the three Mississippi Public Service Commissioners think a law that has allowed Mississippi Power Company to hide the rate impacts of its proposed $2.4 billion power plant is wrong.

By law, a utility is allowed to file with the Commission any information it wants to keep confidential.

To uncover the information, a third party must make a request through the Public Records Act. The utility then has 30 days to petition Hinds County Chancery Court to rule in its favor or turn over the documents if the court chooses not to rule in its favor.

The 190,000 customers of Mississippi Power Company have little idea what effect in real dollars the Kemper County clean coal plant would have on their monthly electric bills.

Outside Commission proceedings, MPC has said rates will go up “about a third” whether Kemper is built or a natural gas-fired alternative is used. `

Northern District Commissioner and Chairman Brandon Presley said he plans to file a motion to change the rule so that the Commission will have the authority to allow or disallow a utility to mark information as confidential.

“This rule does nothing but protect the utilities…and to heck with the consumer,” Presley said. “We (the commissioners) are the representatives for the public interest, but if a consumer comes to me and asks me what the addition of this power plant is going to do to his rates, I have to say, ‘I’m sorry. The utility told me I can’t tell you that,’” Presley said.

Likewise, Southern District Commissioner Leonard Bentz is unhappy with the law.

“Those numbers should be made available to the public,” Bentz has said. “The ratepayers need to know the impacts. When the bills go up, they’re not going to call (company CEO) Anthony Topazi. They’re going to call me … The whole story is not getting told.”

While Presley does not favor the Kemper plant, Bentz did vote for an April 29 order that conditionally approved the project. Bentz’ district comprises most of the citizens who will be paying for the plant if it goes forward.

“It is frustrating. I want to build this plant, but I want everybody to know exactly what is going to happen when we build this plant. I have to look Gulf Coast residents in the eye and tell them I did everything I could to get the information on the table,” Bentz said.

Under the Administrative Procedures Act, the Commission has the authority to amend its own rules, Presley said. A Commissioner can propose a rule change then allow utilities and other intervenors to submit their opinions. The Commissioners take comments into consideration and may then choose to alter a proposed rule before a final vote is taken.

Central District Commissioner Lynn Posey doesn’t have a strong opinion about the law.

Regarding the rule, Posey said, “I don’t know a reason why off the top of my head (rate impacts) would be confidential… I would not object to looking into it.” However, as the law is being interpreted now, the court has the ultimate authority, and “to some extent that’s probably not a bad thing,” he said.

Posey voted along with Bentz for the conditional approval of the Kemper plant.

Click here to read Rule 109 of the Commission’s Rules of Practice and Procedure which addresses confidential filing of documents.

MPC filed a request for a rehearing on the plant, saying the conditions put forth in the April 29 order make the project impossible to finance. The Commission has said it will likely rule on the motion on May 26.

Commissioners: Law allowing utility to hide rate impact unfair » Mississippi Business Journal.

 

Anthony Topazi, Barbour, BGR Group, Bloomberg News, Brandon Presley, Clean Coal Power Initiative, Construction Work in Progress, CWIP, Florida, Gov. Haley Barbour, Griffith & Rogers Inc., Interpublic Group of Companies Inc., Kemper County clean coal plant, Kemper County clean coal project, Kemper County Coal plant, Leonard Bentz, Lynn Posey, Mississippi Business Journal, Mississippi Power Company, Mississippi State Ethics Commission, Orlando Gasification Project, Public Service Commission, Southern Company, The New Republic, Todd Terrell, U.S. Department of Energy

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