Will power rates climb?

They weren’t exactly beating down the doors Tuesday morning when the Mississippi Public Service Commission held a rate-payers forum in Diamondhead.

In fact, only one person showed up when the event began, and she was there to protest a $2.4 billion generating plant proposed by Mississippi Power Co. in far-away Kemper County.

Gulfport resident Linda St. Martin, of Mississippi for Affordable Energy, objects not only to the coal gasification generating plant. She also differs with a state law that authorizes the PSC to decide if a power company’s customers – instead of its own investors – will pay for a generating facility’s construction through rate increases, before it’s even built.

Critics say costs of the new Mississippi Power plant, if laid upon consumers, will cause electric bills to skyrocket.

The legislation, Senate Bill 2793, was passed in 2008. It empowers utility companies to include pre-construction and construction costs of generating facilities in the rates paid by customers, even if the plant is never completed, or is never put into operation.

“We have never before allowed this type of charge in advance for something we don’t yet have,” St. Martin said, adding that the very idea is “egregiously offensive to me.”

Other groups, including the Sierra Club and AARP, are also objecting.

“Our members are very nervous about it, and they don’t like it,” said Sherri Davis-Gardner, AARP’s Mississippi director. “It’s like paying for a car that you never get to drive.”

The PSC is expected to render a decision by May 1 on Mississippi Power’s request to build the Kemper County plant. However, the public only has until 5 p.m. Friday to voice opinions on the issue to the commission. Comments may be sent by e-mail to southern.district@psc.state.ms.us.

Mississippi Power responded with a written comment when the Sea Coast Echo inquired whether the company actually intends to increase rates for South Mississippi customers, to pay for the Kemper County plant.

Cindy Duvall, of the company’s media relations department, answered by e-mail, saying the company has “submitted thorough data to the Public Service Commission detailing why the Kemper County IGCC project is the best alternative for new generation to serve our customers.”

Beyond that, Duvall concluded: “Should the project be approved, the Public Service Commission will determine the rate impact to customers.”

Public Service Commissioner Leonard Benz will hold two more rate-payer forums in Hancock County today and Thursday.

Both run from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Today’s event occurs at Bay St. Louis City Hall, and the Thursday forum will be held at Waveland City Hall.

BY: J. R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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