I have spent the last 35 years working in the electric and natural gas industry, and since 2008, I have been directly involved in various regulatory and legislative activities in Mississippi pertaining to the Kemper project. Thus, I am compelled to respond to some of the comments made by Mr. Kelley Williams in his article entitled “The Need for a Consumer Advocate” published on October 5th. Mr. Williams is often absolutely on target in his commentaries pertaining to Kemper, as Kemper is now the case study of all case studies of utility boondoggles. Where Mr. Williams goes somewhat astray is in his criticism of the Mississippi Public Service Commission, the Mississippi Attorney General, and particularly the current Mississippi Public Utility Staff.
In 2008, the MS Legislature passed the “Baseload Act”, which changed the rules of how the Mississippi Public Service Commission dealt with power plants to be constructed. These new rules were written to strictly favor Mississippi Power’s building of the Kemper plant and Entergy in building another nuclear unit - Grand Gulf Unit 3. The then Mississippi Public Utility Staff Executive Director and their attorney along with two elected commissioners wholly supported Mississippi Power’s Kemper concept, in conjunction with a host of political and state leaders. Simultaneously, Entergy chose a flawed new nuclear technology that never made it off the drawing board, and when Entergy cancelled the project, they filed at the Mississippi PSC to recoup the $50+ million they had wasted. The Attorney General and his consumer protection attorneys stood up for ratepayers, the Mississippi Public Service commissioners and staff agreed, and the end result was the Entergy shareholders absorbed those costs and not Entergy’s ratepayers.
Fast forward to today, and Kemper has morphed from a bad dream into a nightmare. And it could have been much worse for ratepayers given that the Baseload Act allowed for the premature declaration of prudence before the Kemper plant was completed and operating as designed. Thankfully, however, the previous and current Mississippi Public Service Commission and Mississippi Public Utility Staff did not implement preapproval of any prudency of expenditures by Mississippi Power, which would have had the effect today of mandating that Mississippi Power ratepayers pay the total costs for a now approaching $8 billion dollar catastrophe that has never worked. Furthermore, the three current commissioners, the new Mississippi Public Utility Staff executive director and new attorney in addition to their respective staffs and associates deserve accolades, not criticism for their past and current defense of ratepayers against a tsunami of Kemper-related costs.
The concept of a consumer advocate already exists and could easily be strengthened and expanded by the Legislature providing additional resources to the Attorney General and his current staff. In the meantime, all Mississippi ratepayers are indeed fortunate to have the women and men who serve at the Mississippi Public Service Commission, the Mississippi Public Utility Staff, and the Attorney General and his staff. Their actions have already shifted over $6.5 billion in Kemper costs from Mississippi Power ratepayers to Southern Company’s shareholders and over $50 million in Grand Gulf 3 costs from Entergy Mississippi’s ratepayers to Entergy Corporation’s shareholders. Their results speak for themselves.
Chip Estes is a Northsider.