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Deep South to receive wind powered electricity

A Texas company is planning to build a high-voltage electricity transmission line linking the wind farms of west Texas to the deep South. The line would enter Mississippi near Vicksburg and run through the middle of Mississippi terminating north of Columbus.

The company, Pattern Development, would pay for the transmission line at no cost to Mississippi ratepayers, giving us access to inexpensive wind energy and lowering electricity bills.

Pattern must get approval from the Mississippi Public Service Commission (PSC) which has begun reviewing the proposal. The PSC should be doing everything it can to protect consumers and lower rates, but as we know from the Kemper power plant, this is not always the case.

Years ago, when I first began writing about the Kemper power plant, now approaching seven billion dollars, I raised this question: Why put a hugely expensive new power plant on the back of ratepayers when we can just upgrade our grid and buy power from all over the country at the lowest cost?

This is already happening now with Entergy and MISO, an energy grid that connects 15 states and dispatches the lowest cost energy as needed to Mississippi. Entergy projects MISO will save ratepayers $1.4 billion dollars over the next decade. That’s around $2,500 per customer.

MISO, which stands for Midcontinent Independent System Operator, is a non-profit entity. It constantly monitors the cheapest energy produced using 2,445 pricing nodes, delivering the lowest cost electricity to its 426 participating power companies serving 42 million customers. It has 65,800 miles of transmission lines.

MISO has a diversified base of energy producers: gas, 42 percent; coal, 37 percent; nuclear, eight percent; and renewables, 13 percent.

The biggest hurdle to complete the new Texas transmission line is rights-of-way, which the company is negotiating right now. The exact path of the tranmission line will depend on where they can negotiate the least expensive rights-of-way while minimizing the length to save cost.

Mississippi Power claimed we needed Kemper to meet growing energy demand and to diversify our energy base and make us less dependent on natural gas. The PSC approved it and is making ratepayers pay through the nose.

Yet all the PSC had to do was pressure Mississippi Power to join MISO, which could have supplied our state with all the energy it needed at the lowest possible cost with complete diversity of power sources. Connecting the Mississippi Power grid to MISO would have been an insignificant cost compared to Kemper’s seven billion dollars. (Not to mention that Kemper has yet to operate at its claimed capacity using lignite.)

This is further proof that our regulated statewide monopoly system of providing electricity is hopelessly outdated. Nothing less than complete reform is needed. What’s on the line is thousands of dollars of cheap electricity.

This is the same regulated monopoly system responsible for a complete failure to promote rooftop solar energy in a state that receives tons of sunshine.

For the cost of Kemper, every one of the 190,000 Kemper customers could have installed a $35,000 rooftop solar system that would have cut their power bills in half. Instead, Mississippi Power customers, which already pay 40 percent more than Entergy customers, can look forward to endless rate increases as Mississippi Power uses its legal muscle to get reimbursed for Kemper.

Compare our Mississippi system to Texas, where customers can choose their own energy provider. The Texas Public Service Commission runs a website called Power to Choose, which allows residential customers to simply enter their address and find the lowest cost source of electricity from dozens of power plants around the state and country.

Are you environmentally conscious? In Texas, you can choose to pay extra for green energy. Want the lowest possible cost? In Texas you can buy the cheapest possible electricity, saving hundreds of dollars a year. Why don’t we have this in Mississippi?

This system has worked so well in Texas that Pattern Development wants to sell Texas wind energy in Mississippi, where rates are higher because of our screwed up regulated system. That’s why they are building the $1.3 billion transmission line – all on their own dime.

The beauty of high voltage transmission lines is that the line loss, even over long distances, is minimal, allowing Mississippians to buy cheaper power from all over the nation. This is especially true of wind energy. Once the windmill is built, the variable cost of producing electricity is negligible. On a recent windy day in Texas, 50 percent of the total energy consumed was from wind energy.

I hope the Mississippi PSC approves this new transmission line. I hope in the process, the commission will come to realize that Kemper is an unnecessary boondoggle, not worthy of power company reimbursement.

Wyatt Emmerich is the president of Emmerich Newspapers and publisher of The Northside Sun. He can be contacted at P.O. Box 16709, Jackson, MS 39236 or via email at wyatt@northsidesun.com.