Elections

Two former GOP chiefs, angry about Kemper, endorse Democrat Blanton

Reed
Reed

Two former Republican leaders have endorsed the Democrat in the Southern District Public Service Commissioner race.

Democrat Thomas Blanton faces Republican Sam Britton in that race to replace Steve Renfroe, who was appointed to fill a vacancy on the PSC and chose not to run for the post.

Both Mike Retzer, former ambassador to Tanzania, and former GOP state chairman Clarke Reed said Mississippi Power Co.'s Kemper power plant was the issue that caused them to cross party lines and back Blanton.

"The problem goes beyond the PSC, where I hope we can prevail," Reed wrote in an email announcing the endorsement. "The state Republican leadership seems dug in to the proposition that the ratepayers should pay the $6 billion cost of the Kemper Plant.

"If the leadership stays dug in, the members of the Legislature will follow because they are dependent on the leadership for their own positions, not the voters that elected them. This must not happen."

The PSC approved the Kemper plant and the rate plan to pay for it on 2-1 votes, with Northern Commissioner Brandon Presley, also a Democrat, voting no. Central Commissioner Lynn Posey, a Kemper supporter, also chose not to run, so there will be at least two new commissioners.

The state Supreme Court earlier this year invalidated the rate plan. But the PSC then approved an emergency 18 percent rate increase based on the cost of the gas-fired portion of the Kemper plant, which, if it works as planned, will generate electricity using synthetic gas the plant will produce from lignite.

Britton also has expressed misgivings about the Kemper project.

"It is my opinion, and in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling, any rate increase should be considered only after public and transparent prudency hearings have been held to determine if Kemper is in fact functioning at the level of performance as it was presented to the ratepayers," Britton wrote in an emailed statement in September. "While Mississippi Power Company is experiencing financial difficulties as a result of their mistakes in the planning and implementation of this project, that in of itself does not entitle the company to a rate increase. Therefore, I am opposed to passing this rate increase on to the customers."

The PSC in early November will consider making the emergency increase permanent.

Retzer was appointed ambassador to Tanzania by President George W. Bush, was state party chairman for several years starting in 1978 and treasurer of the Republican National Convention and Republican National committeeman for Mississippi. He is now a member of the State Central Committee. He said he worries Kemper will harm the business climate in the southeast part of the state served by Mississippi Power.

"I am supporting Thomas Blanton because I am fearful of where Mississippi Power and the current Public Service commissioners are taking our state," he wrote. "The Kemper coalfired power plant was originally estimated to cost us $1 billion. That alone was a hefty price tag, but now the cost of the same plant has grown to over $6 billion and is still increasing. Worse yet, we haven't received the first watt of power from this financial monster.

"With our current group of go along public service commissioners, the future is clear, Mississippi Power customers will eventually have some of the highest power rates in the nation. Industries that would like to locate in our communities will look at the cost of power and go elsewhere. Companies currently located in South Mississippi may relocate their plants to more business friendly locations."

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