Customers of Mississippi Power typically have 60 days to ask questions before a rate hike, but when it comes to the Kemper County energy facility, the Mississippi Public Service Commissioners decided that’s not long enough.
“For Kemper, as complex as it is, that’s too short of a window I believe,” said PSC Southern Commissioner Sam Britton.
Last month the PSC opened a “discovery docket” to give ratepayers a 180-day process to get their questions answered by Mississippi Power.
The company will submit its initial filing on Oct. 3 to start this window of discovery process. Beginning that day, any Mississippi Power ratepayer will be able to go online at psc.state.ms.us and search for 16-AD-161.
There they will be able to comment and ask questions on the financial prudency and the need for the Kemper energy facility. Once ratepayers become participants, they will be able to see Mississippi Power’s answers to their questions as well as questions asked by others.
Mississippi Power spokesman Jeff Shepard said the company mailed and emailed notices of the discovery docket to all its customers.
“This process will allow the company to share the Kemper story with the commission and our customers, demonstrate all costs were prudently incurred and allow the commission and staff the time they need to evaluate those costs around the project,” Shepard said.
“This is not a rate case and no rate decision will be rendered from this discovery docket,” Britton said. “This is nothing but information gathering.”
Once the PSC is finished with the process, the information will become part of the future rate case, he said.
Mississippi Power also is required to present expectations of how the plant will perform for the first five years.
The question-and-answer process will be broken into three 60-day periods:
1. Questions about the prudency of Kemper costs
2. Questions about the use and usefulness of the Kemper facility
3. Any follow-up questions and summary
This process has never been done before by PSC, just as capping the costs of the Kemper facility by the PSC was out of the ordinary.
Since he took office in January, Britton said he asked that Mississippi Power’s monthly reports on Kemper be posted on the PSC website, “So everybody knows what the PSC commissioners know about Kemper.”
In July the PSC gave Mississippi Power 30 days to justify the confidential status of 35,000 documents concerning the facility.
“Law requires that companies be given the opportunity to identify and protect commercially and financially sensitive documents,” the PSC said in a press release. But the documents could be unsealed and made public after review by the PSC.
The Kemper plant has been an emotional issue as costs and the timeline have escalated. The facility that was estimated to cost $2.4 billion now stands at $6.7 billion.
The plant is producing electricity with natural gas, and since July both gasifiers have produced syngas, a necessary step to making electricity with lignite coal. Mississippi Power said in its latest report to the PSC that it expects to be operational with lignite by Oct. 31.
Once that happens, the company can file a rate case to recover the costs of building Kemper and customers will still have the normal 60 days to ask questions.
The prudency determination that will determine how much customers will have to pay for Kemper will be held during the rate case, Britton said.