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PSC may restrict utilities' corporate travel expenses

JACKSON — The Mississippi Public Service Commission could vote this fall on a proposed rule designed to limit the corporate travel expenses that utility companies can pass along to customers.

The three-member commission took comments on the proposal yesterday in Jackson.

The rule would not prohibit utility companies from using private jets, but it would limit reimbursement to the equivalent cost of a coach rate on a commercial flight.

Southern District Commissioner Leonard Bentz told The Associated Press that the rule could come up for a vote in two months.

“We’ve got to come up with a good, sound, fair legal rule that will give them direction,” Bentz said, speaking of utility companies.

Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley proposed the rule, saying companies should not pass along expenses to customers.

“What do they need a plane for in the first place? But if they’ve got one, let them pay for it. It shouldn’t be the guy or the gal on the street struggling to pay their power bill,” Presley told WLBT-TV yesterday.

Presley said in July that Mississippi Power Co. had sought permission from the PSC to pass along $900,000 in corporate jet expenses to the company’s customers. The request was withdrawn.

“They should be ashamed for filing something at this commission asking to recover that kind of money for corporate jet expense,” Presley said yesterday. “It’s wrong, and they should pay for it out of their own pocket.”

Mississippi Power Co. spokeswoman Cindy Duvall said in a statement yesterday that state law allows all reasonable and prudent travel expenses to be recovered through public utility rates.

“Mississippi Power uses all modes of travel to conduct its business, including corporate aircraft, when necessary,” Duvall said. “The commission’s proposed rule unnecessarily assumes that commercial air is the most cost effective means of travel, that it is adequate to meet MPC’s needs and is available when needed.

“Reasonable and necessary travel expenses, regardless of the mode of transportation, are prudent and required to carry out public utility business and should be treated similar to any other operating expense.”

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