Mississippi Power presents a litmus test for the state

Published 7:16 pm Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I thought nothing regarding the Kemper power plant could surprise me anymore, but I was wrong. We now have a campaign called the Ministerial Alliance calling for the Mississippi Public Service Commission (PSC) to take mercy on Mississippi Power and its failed boondoggle.

“We understand that the Public Service Commission will soon begin negotiations on a final settlement on costs associated with the construction of the Kemper County Plan. The PSC finds itself with a task that takes the Wisdom of Solomon weighing the existing policy against the facts while taking into account the needs of the people to devise an action that serves the needs of the community . . . The Ministerial Alliance hopes that this issue is settled in a way that allows Mississippi Power to continue to grow and make contributions to the lives of people in our community.” The ad calls for “the matter to be resolved quickly” and without “malice.” The print ad is signed by 11 evangelical pastors of mainly rural churches located in the Mississippi Power service area.

I don’t know these pastors and commend their service to the Lord, but pardon my cynicism given the history of some Mississippi churches’ involvement in distinctly secular affairs. When Jesus Christ said render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s, he didn’t offer a lot of details, but I’m pretty sure saddling defenseless ratepayers with the cost of monopoly boondoggles was not one of his primary concerns.

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I have no doubt Mississippi Power has donated to a variety of good causes throughout the state, perhaps even certain churches. The power company is certainly a generous donor to political campaigns. But Mississippi Power’s first obligation is to deliver affordable electricity. In this regard, Kemper’s $7.5 billion of wasted money — an unbelievable $40,000 per household — should not be covered by Mississippi ratepayers. To do so would hobble our entire state for generations. If Southern and Mississippi Power really want to help Mississippi, rather than their own pocketbooks, their executives need to concentrate on what they are charged to do: bring reliable electricity to Mississippians at the lowest possible cost. So far, they’re not doing so hot. Their rates are 40 percent higher than other utility companies in the state — and that’s before Kemper. If Kemper’s failed lignite gasification effort is allowed to be placed in the rate base, Mississippi Power electricity rates would be some of the highest in the country, stifling economic growth for decades.

Apparently Atlanta-based Southern Company and its puppet, Mississippi Power, are turning over every stone as the clock winds down. This latest effort smacks of desperation. It is insulting to our state they believe their pathetic political shenanigans have any hope of staving off the inevitable Southern Company investment loss.

I understand their concern. Southern CEO Tom Fanning got a $12 million bonus last year. We don’t know in what parallel universe a CEO presides over a $7.5 billion disaster and gets a $12 million bonus, but we are apparently living in it. Surely there must ultimately be some sort of accountability to their board of directors or the hundreds of institutional investors who own Southern Company stock.

The Kemper disaster is a lesson in the failure of regulated monopolies to work. The corporate bonuses are an indictment of the lack of accountability of large corporations with their hand-picked boards. Southern’s continued effort to get off the hook by greasing the skids is a sad reminder of just how backward the Atlanta city slickers think we are. If ever there was a litmus test for the future of our state, this is it.

Wyatt Emmerich is a columnist, writer and publisher in Jackson. He can be reached at wyatt@northsidesun.com.