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Rate hike review at halftime

If this were a football game, it would be halftime.

That’s where the Mississippi Public Service Commission’s (PSC’s) hearings into Entergy’s third quarter increase in utility bills stands.

Starting in July, the average Entergy customer’s bill jumped 28%. The company’s fuel mixture is made up of more than half natural gas, the price of which has jumped more than 100% the past year.

Publicly regulated utilities in Mississippi are allowed to recover fuel costs dollar-for-dollar through ratepayer bills.

In response to the significant jump, the PSC launched investigative hearings and hired an outside auditor from Florida to crunch numbers and make sure Entergy customers were getting the best possible deal.

The auditor, Walter Drabinski, testified before commissioners in a hearing earlier this month as to how other states’ utilities recover fuel costs. Probably some time in September, Drabinski will return after auditing Entergy’s fuel cost adjustment filings, which are submitted to the PSC quarterly.

In the meantime, though, PSC chairman Leonard Bentz issued an order directing Entergy to lower its fuel cost adjustment by 5%. Starting in September, Entergy customers will save an average of $7 per month on their electric bill.

The order is the result of natural gas prices falling since Entergy made filed its third quarter fuel cost adjustment.

“After watching natural gas prices rise more than 120% in the past year, we are cautiously optimistic about this recent turn of events,” said Haley Fisackerly, Entergy Mississippi president and chief executive officer, in a statement. “While we have no control over the price of fuel, we saw the decrease in price as an opportunity to offer some relief to customers who have endured a significant increase in their July and August bills.”

Entergy spokesperson Mara Hartmann said the company approached the PSC about adjusting its fuel cost adjustment mid-quarter.

“We knew it was coming,” Hartmann said. “When we saw the prices fall, we saw it as an opportunity to offer some relief.”

Hartmann said this is the first time the company has modified its fuel cost adjustment filing in mid-quarter.

“But these are extraordinary times,” she said.

“I am extremely happy to be a part of offering relief to the ratepayers,” said Bentz, who represents the southern district.

A portion of the hearing earlier this month featured a public comment portion in which Katrina Johnson, a mother of three from Vicksburg, railed against Entergy, saying the rate increase “was nothing but corporate greed.”

At a press conference afterward, representatives from the Sierra Club and the AARP decried the salaries of Entergy executives and said the company spent too much on keeping its corporate plane in the air.

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


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