JACKSON — Gov. Phil Bryant is renewing his focus on promoting energy-related development.
Bryant unveiled an “energy roadmap” yesterday at the Mississippi Energy Summit, including promoting oil and gas production, finding ways to use the state’s available energy resources to attract more business, improving energy efficiency, expanding energy-focused research and training workers to take advantage of opportunities.
When inaugurated, Bryant emphasized energy and health care as avenues to economic development. Legislators created tax breaks for health care investments this year. Now it appears to be energy’s turn for attention.
He said Mississippi should focus on energy development because it has natural advantages in the area and because the field produces high-paying jobs.
“Most energy jobs pay twice the average household income in Mississippi,” the governor said.
Bryant listed few specifics Thursday.
He said that his administration was considering sponsoring a bill to encourage research and development in the energy industry. He said such measures might include allowing university researchers to keep more profits from patented inventions. He also said the Mississippi Development Authority and the private Mississippi Energy Institute might combine money to fund energy research and lure top researchers to the state.
Bryant acknowledged a ranking Wednesday by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy that named Mississippi last among states for promoting energy conservation.
“We don’t do a very good job,” he said. “We’re going to work hard to get off of that list.”
Southern Co. CEO Thomas Fanning reiterated support for the coal-fired plant that its Mississippi Power Co. subsidiary is building in Kemper County, despite the cost rising to $2.8 billion.
“There’s a big capital cost, I get that, but the energy coming out of this technology will be super-cheap,” Fanning said.
He said Kemper’s technology, which would capture carbon dioxide and other byproducts and sell them to other users is “a home run, not only for the state of Mississippi but for America and the world.”
Fanning warned against relying too much on natural gas, though Southern Co. is currently burning gas for 47 percent of its power. He said coal and nuclear should be kept viable, indicating that’s why his company is building Kemper as well as new nuclear reactors in Georgia.
Bryant also repeated his support for the Kemper plant. When asked if the Public Service Commission should reverse itself and grant Mississippi Power a rate increase now, Bryant said he’d leave that up to the PSC.
Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Republican U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper and others attacked President Barack Obama’s administration and environmentalists.
Giuliani said those opposed to burning coal and drilling for oil are “living in some kind of ideological dream world that makes sense only to you.”
Harper touted House Republican plans to expand oil and gas production offshore and on public lands. He said those measures are stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate and said regulators are clamping down on projects that would be beneficial.
“The Environmental Protection Agency is probably the most unfriendly agency I’ve ever seen,” Harper said.