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Energy, education take center stage during session

With the deadline for bills in both houses of the Mississippi Legislature to receive a vote come and gone, legislators now go about the business of considering those measures still alive and either passing them out to the floor for debate or killing them in committee.

Approximately 300 bills survived the February 28 day of reckoning.

Two that carry significant business issues are the Senate bill that would free the Mississippi Public Service Commission to allow utility companies to charge ratepayers for the construction of new facilities as they are being built. Currently, utilities cannot pass along the cost of new facilities to ratepayers until those facilities are online.

Supporters of the measure say it will save consumers money in the long run. Energy companies across the country, in response to increasing demand, say construction of new power plants is inevitable.

Entergy Mississippi is one of those looking to build a facility that will increase “baseload” energy and provide some relief from the rising demand for electric power.

Entergy has plans to build a new nuclear power plant, and the company says the bill that would allow it to “pay-as-you-go” during construction is key to those plans.

“We believe it takes away the shock of a larger rate increase (later),” said Checky Herrington, communications manager for Entergy Mississippi.

Entergy Mississippi is currently operating at a deficit of approximately 500 megawatts, meaning the company has to make up the shortfall by purchasing power on the open market. That brings in additional costs of transporting the power. And with the cost of natural gas, which is used to transport the power, rising, the method is becoming cost-prohibitive for Entergy and for consumers.

Herrington said the new nuclear facility would more than make up the deficit, saving consumers money in the long run.

“We understand nobody likes their rates to go up,” Herrington said. “We believe the nuclear option is better for our customers.”

Mississippi Power Company is also touting the bill, as it has plans to build a “clean coal” lignite plant in Kemper. The company says the plant would cost $1.8 billion.

Mixed results on education front

A collection of bills that deal with education and the funding thereof are still making their way through the Legislature.

Gaining most of the attention from advocacy groups is components of the Quality Education Act, an omnibus package that addresses everything from funding to appointed superintendents to redesigning the state’s high school curriculum to make it more relevant to the workplace. The components have been picked up piece mill, just as Nancy Loome, executive director of The Parents’ Campaign, predicted at the beginning of the session.

The Parents’ Campaign, advocates for better public schools, has lobbied hard for the bill.

Loome said the results have been mixed.

“All but one of the initiatives in the Quality Education Act have passed in some form in at least one chamber, and that is very good news for Mississippi.” Loome said. “I am hopeful that the House will take up the appointed superintendents bill and that the Senate will invest more in early childhood education. Pre-K is where our state will get the most bang for our buck.

“Research has shown consistently that investing in early childhood education pays big dividends. We have to move beyond the status quo if we are to bring Mississippi to a level at which we can compete head on with other states.”

The Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the formula that determines funding for every school district in the state, is almost certain to be fully funded this session. That would mark the second year in a row the formula has been met.

Before last year, with an election looming, the formula had not been fully funded since 2003, also an election y

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .ear.

About Clay Chandler

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