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Bryant wants Mississippi to be ‘leader in the energy field’

The cost of energy and its availability is a favorite talking point of candidates for state and national office. There is near-universal agreement that the U.S. must do something to lessen its dependence on foreign oil. The disagreement arrives when it comes time to discuss how to reach that end.

One way to make it happen is projects such as Houston, Texas-based Gulf LNG Energy’s liquefied natural gas terminal at the Port of Pascagoula. Officials broke ground on the $1.1-billion undertaking October 15. Operation is schedule to start in September 2011. An estimated 60 jobs will be created when the terminal opens.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant praised the project in his introductory remarks at “New Ideas to Address Mississippi’s Energy Challenges,” a summit Bryant hosted October 22 at Eagle Ridge Conference Center at Hinds Community College.

“That is a great example of how Mississippi can become a leader in the energy field,” Bryant said.

The idea to bring together leaders from the political and energy worlds, Bryant said, arose when the price of a gallon of gasoline began soaring last spring.

Energy exploration and production can achieve two critical goals, according to Bryant: It can position Mississippi as a forerunner in the burgeoning industry that aims to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources and serve as a boon to the state’s job market.

“We’ve got these opportunities for energy,“ Bryant said, pointing to offshore oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico and the possibility of nuclear power plants being built. “If Mississippi is ever going to achieve the success everybody wants us to achieve, we have to have a reliable source of energy.”

Several sources of that energy have already been identified, Bryant said, and it is now time for officials to begin to market them to potential investors. “Companies are not going to ask how much the energy costs,” Bryant said. “They are going to ask us if we have it. And we do.”

Toward that end, the upcoming session of the Mississippi Legislature, which starts in January, is a prime opportunity to clear the way for energy investment in Mississippi. The work has to start now, Bryant said.

“Now is the time to start forming legislation,” he said. “We have to begin laying out the parameters of legislation so that we can vet it and take it out to the public. As legislators, regardless of party, we all want sustainable energy.”

Energy reliability and availability is something Gov. Haley Barbour has often said can propel Mississippi forward economically. Barbour was in Virginia last Wednesday campaigning for Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Essentially his proxy at Bryant’s summit, Kelley Williams, who served as CEO of First Mississippi Corporation until Dupont acquired it in 2002, said Mississippi has to create an environment deemed friendly by investors.

“Capital goes where it’s welcome,” Williams said. “Investors must have trust and confidence. They’re looking for a level playing field — not subsidies or mandates or political favors.”

Williams said the more than $3 billion worth of projects broken ground on it the last five years, including the Gulf LNG terminal in Pascagoula, was a good start.

“All of these are capital- and technology-intensive,” Williams said. “We must have assured availability of energy. It’s not about how much it costs, but how to get it.

“Nuclear energy is good. We should strongly support it and encourage it. It’s the best option.”

Bryant agreed.

“I love nuclear power plants,” he said. “I get excited about the possibility of a new nuclear power plant. We are poised to do great things. We can say that we have alternative energy, because we do, things like biofuels for starters. We’re moving forward. We’re growing.”

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

About Clay Chandler

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