Jackson, MS–(ENEWSPF)–March 30, 2012. In a closed meeting lasting less than one minute, two Mississippi Public Service Commissioners voted to issue a temporary authorization to Mississippi Power Company to continue spending $3 million per day building the Kemper County coal plant, with no opportunity for public comment. This authorization allows Mississippi Power to continue construction of the $2.88 billion plant after the Mississippi Supreme Court revoked its initial permit in a ruling issued March 15 of this year. Since the ruling, Mississippi Power has scrambled to try and protect their investments in the project and burden coastal ratepayers with the expenses. The Commissions’ actions were met with shock, disbelief, and anger from meeting attendees, including Sierra Club volunteers and TEA Party challenger Tom Blanton.
“The PSC’s actions today are illegal,” said Louie Miller, State Director of the Mississippi Sierra Club. “It’s outrageous that the PSC held a 45- second meeting and didn’t let anyone address the Commission. People drove for hours to attend the meeting, only to watch the Commission violate state law by issuing Mississippi Power Company a temporary authorization. Under Mississippi law, the only emergency is a threat to power service. That’s not the case here.”
Commissioners Leonard Bentz and Lynn Posey voted in favor of the emergency permit. Commissioner Posey has been consistently supportive of the Kemper County coal plant, while Commissioner Bentz, who represents the majority of ratepayers affected by the plant, initially opposed the plant and flip-flopped one month later to approve the initial permits for construction and rate recovery. Commissioner Brandon Presley was the sole dissenter.
Adding fuel to the fire, the Commission announced the meeting the morning of March 28, six hours before Mississippi Power Company filed their request for emergency permits. There is no emergency situation with the Kemper County coal plant, as the plant is not yet 30% complete and is not generating power.
“The only emergency here is for Mississippi Power’s bottom line. The company is spending three million dollars a day on construction costs, and they expect the PSC to pass the costs on to the ratepayers,” said Linda St. Martin, with Mississippians for Affordable Energy. “The Public Service Commission is not Mississippi Power’s personal errand boy – they are required by law to serve the interest of the public. This is absurd.”
The location, date, and timing of the meeting make it impossible for the ratepayers to attend. Coastal residents will be most impacted by rate increases from the Kemper coal plant, yet the Commission has never held a hearing in Southern Mississippi. In recent weeks, hundreds of Mississippi residents have signed online petitions, sent emails and made phone calls to their local Commissioner, asking for a full public hearing on the Kemper County coal plant.
Immediately after the March 15 Supreme Court ruling, Mississippi Power announced it would continue with construction of the Kemper plant, regardless of the Court’s ruling. Then, on March 23, in a surprise move, the Public Service Commission issued an order requiring Sierra Club and Mississippi Power to submit proposals offering opinions as to why the PSC initially approved the Kemper County coal plant. Essentially, the PSC was asking Mississippi Power to tell the Commission why it approved the coal plant. The deadline for these proposals is Monday, April 2, while the just-announced public meeting was held the morning of Friday, March 30. Sierra Club continues to call for a full hearing to determine if the Kemper County coal plant serves the best interests of ratepayers.