Jackson, MS–(ENEWSPF)–June 22, 2012. While a broad coalition of labor, environmental, public health, disability and low-income advocacy groups opposing the Kemper County Coal Plant looked on, the Mississippi Public Service Commission voted to deny a controversial rate hike of 15.7% for residential customers over a course of six months to pay for construction finance charges for Mississippi Power’s Kemper County Coal Plant. After the Commission voted unanimously to deny the request, the filled-to-capacity room broke into applause.
“The Commission finally acted in the best interests of Mississippi Power ratepayers,” said Louie Miller, Director of the Mississippi Sierra Club. “Mississippi Power told us that they had the experience and expertise to guarantee the project and bring it on budget. Today, Mississippi Power reps testified under oath that they cannot guarantee the plant will work on day one, and they cannot guarantee there will not be more cost overruns. It’s clear that this plant is an unmitigated disaster, and that Mississippi Power misled the public and the Commission. A lot of folks will be breathing easier on July 1, knowing that their rates aren’t going to go up to pay for this boondoggle.”
Nearly a dozen individuals, representing organizations including the AARP of Harrison County, MS, Mississippians for Affordable Energy, and the North Gulfport Community Land Trust, spoke in opposition to the proposed rate increase. As Mary Troupe, Executive Director of JustAdvocacy.org noted, “This rate increase comes during the hottest months of the year, when people’s air conditioners are running. For many people, especially the elderly and disabled Mississippians, the rate increase would have been much more than $20 per month.”
Multiple speakers raised concerns about current cost overruns at the plant. The May 2012 report from URS Corporation, which is serving as the independent monitor of the Kemper County coal plant project, documented cost overruns of $366 M from a filing from Mississippi Power Company on May 10, 2012. This report documents that with less than one-third of construction complete, Mississippi Power has exhausted its $167 M contingency fund and has overspent in engineering and construction costs, as well as other areas. The report’s findings raised questions as to whether Mississippi Power Company has been fully forthcoming and honest in presenting information about the plant’s progress to the Public Service Commission and to the public, as reported by the Mississippi Business Journal.
Sierra Club also filed further legal challenges to the PSC’s rubber-stamp approval of permits for the Kemper County Coal Plant in state court. “Waiting for action from the Court is a smart move for the Commission,” said Louie Miller. “After the unanimous Supreme Court decision, the PSC rubber-stamped the plant in a 45-second hearing with no public comment. The Commission still hasn’t considered the new evidence that shows the plant is not the best deal for ratepayers; they’ve been ignoring natural gas prices, and have not held new hearings on the proposed plant. We support Commissioner Presley’s call to start over, with fresh hearings and fresh evidence.”
Sierra Club has challenged the dirty, expensive, and unnecessary Kemper County Coal Plant project from its inception, successfully arguing before the Mississippi Supreme Court that the PSC had improperly and illegally issued permits to Mississippi Power for construction and development of the project. Recently, Commissioner Brandon Presley argued that Mississippi Power ratepayers should not be required to finance the construction, development, and operation of the Kemper County Coal Plant. Mississippi Power, the smallest of the Southern Company state-based utilities, has only 180,000 ratepayers in Southern Mississippi.
Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign has worked with allies and partners to stop construction of 168 proposed coal plants and has secured retirement of 113 coal plants nationwide.