JACKSON – The legal wrangling — and the rhetoric — between Entergy Mississippi Inc. and the Attorney General’s Office has ratcheted up several notches, and it appears this war may be a long and costly one.
On Dec. 1, Entergy Mississippi petitioned the Mississippi Public Service Commission (MPSC) for a public hearing on allegations brought by Attorney General Jim Hood that the utility has bilked ratepayers through inflated fuel cost adjustments, and filed a motion in chancery court to block Hood’s efforts until the MSPC makes a ruling.
In late November, the MSPC, working in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office, issued a non-binding resolution that required Entergy Mississippi to produce some 30 years worth of documents that it said is needed to determine if, indeed, the utility is guilty of overcharging its customers. Entergy claims that request is irresponsible and unreasonable, and could take perhaps as long as a year to accomplish and cost millions of dollars.
“We had an expert tell us that just the response to one question would contain 63 terabytes of information,” said Haley Fisackerly, president and CEO of Entergy Mississippi, who added if those documents were printed, they would fill numerous 18-wheelers.
Fisackerly said Dec. 2 that he was not sure when the MSPC would make a ruling on the utility’s request for a hearing, but was adamant that Entergy Mississippi has a right to be heard.
“The MSPC is judicious body,” Fisackerly said. It is supposed to listen to both sides, and Entergy Mississippi was not afforded an opportunity to state their case, Fisackerly stressed.
In response, Hood filed a 37-page lawsuit Dec. 2 that goes far beyond the original consumer protection issues. A few of the lawsuit’s allegations include:
• Entergy Mississippi, dating back to 1974, padded its invoices and forced “Mississippi to be a dumping ground for unloading on Mississippians the highest-priced power Entergy has to offer in its four-state system.”
• The utility “has engaged in a pattern of fraudulent behavior.”
• Entergy Mississippi is “illegally including surcharges, or ‘adders,’ in its customers’ bills, such as ‘phantom’ SO2 (sulfur dioxide) adders.”
• The utility has employed a “patchwork of shady accounting mechanisms.”
• Entergy Mississippi has not only committed fraud by inflating its invoices to its Mississippi customers, “but also its submission of false documents and testimony to the MSPC.”
One interesting aspect of Hood’s lawsuit is it drops the demand for 30 years of documents.
To say that relations have cooled between the Attorney General’s Office and Entergy Mississippi is understatement, and the back-and-forth has become bitter and personal.
“This is nothing but a fishing expedition,” said Fisackerly. Hood is basing his case against Entergy Mississippi on past events in Louisiana and Texas that “have nothing to do with Mississippi,” he said.
Hood contends that the past events, particularly in Louisiana where he said Entergy had to pay back more than $100 million due to over-billing, is the smoking gun.
“They did it in Louisiana, and now they’ve done the same thing here in Mississippi,” Hood said. “We already have the evidence.”
Fisackerly accuses Hood of being irresponsible, and contends he struck a ‘backroom” deal with MSPC commissioners.
At a news conference Dec. 2, Hood referred to a “CEO mentality,” likening it to Enron and other high-profile cases, and that Fisackerly and, presumably, other Entergy senior management, are stalling so that the utility’s actions will not be exposed “on their watch.”
Fisackerly is adamant that Entergy Mississippi will fight this out to the end, and is confident the utility will be vindicated.
“Whatever venue the issue ultimately winds up in, whether it is hearings by the MPSC, FERC or the courts, Entergy Mississippi expects to prevail on behalf of our customers because the facts are on the company’s side,” Fisackerly said.
The utility said it was pleased that Hood dropped the request for 30 years worth of documents, but still called the lawsuit “irresponsible and without merit.”
Hood is equally determined to play it out, and feels the utility’s position is indefensible.
“This is a shell game — they’re stalling,” Hood said. “They know if they supply those documents, it’s all over but the crying.”
Certainly, the last line has yet to be drawn in the sand.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org.