In what should be a great relief to the citizens in this state, the Mississippi Public Service Commission is shedding its reputation as a lapdog to the monopoly utilities it regulates.
After spending $7.5 billion — two and a half times its initial estimate — on the plant in Kemper County, Mississippi Power finally acknowledged — under financial pressure from having to eat most of its overruns — that it couldn’t get the technology to work and pulled the plug. Now the utility is trying to cut its losses — $6 billion and counting — by getting the PSC to allow it to pass on to ratepayers a couple of hundred million dollars beyond what’s reasonable on the one functioning part of the plant, a natural-gas-burning generator.
Mississippi Power lined up its usual assortment of politicians to help make its case — Lauderdale County supervisors, city officials in Meridian and Biloxi, and a group of 10 state lawmakers. The PSC was not impressed.
In a stinging rebuff, the PSC said that Mississippi Power failed to show any support for its proposal separate from those whose interests are aligned with the utility. Plus, it warned Mississippi Power that the commission could still rule the whole project was imprudent — not only the coal-gasification boondoggle but the natural-gas operation, too — and order it to pay back to ratepayers all that the utility has already collected in previously approved rate hikes for the plant.
A new state-of-the-art natural gas plant, if that’s what Mississippi Power had originally proposed, should have cost about $750 million. That’s what the PSC’s staff says the utility should be allowed to pass on.
Mississippi Power better recognize the old politics aren’t working and take the offer. If they continue to push as stubbornly for an extra couple hundred million dollars as they did for their failed experiment in coal gasification, they might just wind up with nothing — and deservedly so.