JACKSON – Regulators should block rate increases for Mississippi Power Co.'s Kemper County plant until all the mandates of a state Supreme Court decision are fulfilled, Hattiesburg oilman Tommy Blanton says.
It was Blanton's lawsuit that threw financing arrangements for the $6.2 billion plant into doubt. In a Tuesday filing before the Mississippi Public Service Commission, Blanton's lawyer wrote that the three-member regulatory body shouldn't enact any of the three recent rate plans proposed by Mississippi Power.
The move comes at a time when Blanton is running as a Democrat for the southern district PSC seat.
Blanton said that before regulators can raise rates, they first must follow the state Supreme Court's February order to refund $337 million already collected for the plant. He also said the PSC must roll back 18 percent increases it imposed in 2013.
"To date, the commission has taken none of the actions required by the Mississippi Supreme Court's decision," wrote his lawyer, Michael Adelman. "Having failed to take either of these actions, the commission is prohibited from even considering Mississippi Power Co.'s most recent request for a rate increase."
The company, the Public Service Commission and some business groups have asked the Supreme Court to overturn its decision.
Mississippi Power said when it filed the three rate options last month that it would use a provision in state law to enact the steepest increase while waiting on a regulatory decision if the PSC didn't act within 120 days.
The unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co., in filings with the PSC, shows one of those scenarios would increase revenues by $273 million in the first year and $395 million in the second year. That's a big boost for a company that had $1.36 billion in revenue for the year ended March 31. The company lost $205 million because of $307 million, after taxes, in write-offs for Kemper-related overruns.
Right now, after the earlier rate increases, a residential customer of Mississippi Power who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per month pays $144. Such customers could see monthly bills rise to at least $153 a month and maybe as high as $181 a month.
Mississippi's other private power company, Entergy Corp., charges $110 per month to a residential customer for the same amount of power. The average Mississippi resident uses more than 1,000 kilowatt hours of power a month.
Besides the $337 million in potential refunds, which Mississippi Power officials would like to disburse as credits, the company also has to pay back $332 million in deposits to the South Mississippi Electric Power Association. That Hattiesburg-based group walked away from plans to buy a $600 million slice of Kemper.
Blanton said the company's efforts to increase rates show that stress.
"Mississippi Power is in trouble," he said in a phone interview. "These are the actions of desperate men."