JACKSON — A number of the state’s utilities are hoping lower power bills for their business customers will help those companies save money to grow their operations.
With approval of the overall effort from the Mississippi Public Service Commission, five utilities are offering discounted power rates to smaller businesses.
Participating utilities include Entergy Mississippi, Mississippi Power, Atmos Energy, CenterPoint Energy Resources and Wilmut Gas and Oil. Each has a set of incentives that have been approved by the PSC.
In an economy where savings in any aspect of a business’ operations are valued, the incentives could prove helpful, especially for startup businesses, said Ron Aldridge, director of the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.
“If that means $5 off your power bill each month, that means $5 (extra per month) that can be spent on other things,” such as fuel or materials, he said.
The incentives generally lower base rates for a certain amount of time for businesses that move into empty buildings instead of building their own structures.
Entergy is offering 15 percent discounts for two years for commercial or industrial customers who locate in an existing building that’s been vacant for at least six months.
Service would have to begin at those buildings on or before Dec. 31, 2012. The incentives apply only to buildings not needing upgrades, according to the utility.
Other incentives from Entergy include security deposit payments in three installments and surety bonds or irrevocable letters of credit from financial institutions for deposits of at least $2,000.
“We do a lot in that area (incentives), and we wanted to do something for small businesses, something to help them gain some traction,” said Entergy spokesman Joey Lee.
Mississippi Power, which serves eastern and southern counties in the state, offers a tiered plan in which a business that creates at least three full-time jobs can save 15 percent on base rates for two years, while those creating at least 20 full-time jobs can save 20 percent initially, with that amount dropping on a sliding basis to 10 percent over a five-year period.
In each case, the deals apply to buildings vacant for at least six months, and contracts must be signed by Jan. 1, 2013.
Company spokesman Jeff Shepard said Mississippi Power’s plan is designed to “foster a positive business climate and offer incentives that will allow business owners the opportunity to hire more employees, encourage expansion and better serve their communities.”
Atmos is offering a 25 percent reduction in customer and distribution charges, each a non-fuel charge, for 12 months for customers who start service with the company before Sept. 1, 2013. It applies to new or existing businesses that need another meter.
Aldridge said the potential benefits of the programs extend beyond utilities and their customers to real estate agencies and economic development groups, who are looking to fill buildings that have long sat vacant during the recession.
The PSC last summer asked the state’s utilities to submit rate-reduction incentives plans, saying they could spur the creation of new, small businesses and help existing small businesses grow.
The proposals the agency received didn’t need much tweaking before being approved, said Lynn Posey, the PSC’s Central District commissioner.
“Our utilities have been fairly good corporate citizens that have tried to help smaller businesses,” he said.
Aldridge said small businesses could use the help.
The recession’s impact on cutting costs has led many smaller firms to take steps like turning off all their interior lights and outdoor lights like electronic signs when those businesses aren’t open in an effort to keep power bills low, he said.
Lee said Entergy can review its own records to see which business customers qualify. The utility will automatically sign them up for the discounted rates if they’re eligible, he said.