Editorials

Mississippi Power needs a viable plan for Kemper plant

The Kemper energy facility began producing syngas, a major milestone to getting the plant fully operational using lignite coal, about a year ago. But, it still has not been able to consistently run the plant.
The Kemper energy facility began producing syngas, a major milestone to getting the plant fully operational using lignite coal, about a year ago. But, it still has not been able to consistently run the plant. Mississippi Power File

It is time for Mississippi Power to reach a fair and equitable decision on its Kemper County power plant.

For years, South Mississippians who rely on Mississippi Power for electricity have been left to wonder just how much their rates will go up because of the plant.

The plant is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. That is what we know.

What residential customers, businesses and potential businesses and employers have not been able to count on is how to budget for their electric bills. After a mortgage, car payment and food, the cost of electricity is one of a family’s largest monthly expenditures. That bill already is subject to the vagaries of weather. Families do not need nor deserve further uncertainty.

The power company filed a plan earlier this month that asks the Public Service Commission to keep a 15-percent rate increase approved in 2015 to pay for the gas-fired portion of the plant. It has yet to file a plan on how to pay for the remainder of the more than $7 billion plant.

On Wednesday, the PSC asked its legal staff to draw up an order that would give Mississippi Power 45 days to come up with a plan. That order probably will be approved in July.

We urge all parties involved to reach an agreement. It is past time we moved on.

The plant, which started with such promise, has not lived up to expectations.

It has been the subject of lawsuits and much criticism.

“Piles of Dirty Secrets Behind a Model ‘Clean Coal’ Project” read a New York Times headline last year, a story that circulated widely.

A few months earlier, Southern Company, Mississippi Power’s parent, said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that the SEC was investigating the project.

A class-action lawsuit filed early this year alleges Southern Company violated the Securities Exchange Act when it “made false and misleading statements and/or failed to disclose adverse information regarding the progress of the Kemper plant, assuring investors that the project would be completed by the critical May 2014 deadline, even when cost overruns and other delays began to materialize.”

And that’s not the only suit. A lawsuit by Hattiesburg oilman Thomas Blanton caused Mississippi Power to refund millions of dollars it had collected from customers in what Blanton said was a faulty rate plan.

That steady stream of bad news overshadowed the milestones achieved by the plant, which has in fact been producing power off and on using the syngas it produces from lignite coal. But the plant hasn’t run consistently and it will be years before it is finished, Mississippi Power said earlier this month.

We applaud the efforts of the PSC to bring this to a close. We have no reason to doubt that Mississippi Power will cooperate fully with the PSC and the others involved to bring about a plan that is fair to the customers and the utility.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.

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