The Mississippi Public Service Commission’s December meeting will likely contain an agenda item meant to encourage a handful of utility companies in the state to extend incentives for their small business customers.
Mississippi Power Co., Entergy Mississippi and CenterPoint Energy Resources all offer some kind of incentives or payment modification plans to small businesses that are set to expire Dec. 31. Atmos Energy offers something similar, but they will not expire until September 2013.
The incentives vary. Some utilities offer discounted rates to all eligible customers, do the same for new customers setting up shop in vacant buildings, allow security deposits to be paid in installments or eliminate them all together.
Since their inception, the incentives have represented a total savings of $140,000, according to figures the companies filed with the PSC.
Entergy spokesperson Mara Hartmann wrote last week in an email to the Mississippi Business Journal that the electric utility offers a 15 percent discount on electricity rates for two years for commercial or industrial customers who locate in an existing building that has sat empty for at least six months. The discount is designed to encourage the revitalization of vacant buildings, which have proliferated in many industrial areas during the past five years and can harm the values of surrounding properties.
Entergy also gives those same customers the option of paying their security in three installments, instead of a lump sum before service is connected. That includes surety bonds or irrevocable letters of credit from financial institutions for deposits of at least $2,000.
Hartmann did not specify if Entergy would extend those incentives beyond Dec. 31.
“A lot of them we were already doing,” she said. “We’ll continue to work with the (PSC) on encouraging small business growth, and we’ll continue to work on keeping rates low for all of our customers.”
The incentives from each of the utilities saved eligible customers a total of $140,000, according to figures the companies filed with the PSC.
That agency cannot force companies to extend the incentive riders, Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley said in a phone interview. “But we can encourage them to do so. Hopefully, they will.”
Presley said he hopes to have on the agenda for the PSC’s regular meeting in December asking the companies to extend the incentives until the end of 2013.
It will include a request for the companies to actively market the incentives. He pointed to figures provided by the utilities on the number of customers who had signed up for the programs as proof of the need to spread the word about their existence. Entergy had 147 customers enrolled in the incentive program, the numbers showed. Mississippi Power had one.
Presley said that while the overall savings figure is relatively small, any money that small businesses don’t have to spend on utility costs can be invested in growing that business via new jobs or expansion. Presley first floated the idea for utilities to offer the incentives in 2011.
“As the economy grows, entrepreneurs will begin to see opportunities to open businesses and create new jobs. We should not allow high utility costs to dissuade them from this goal,” Presley said.
The PSC’s December meeting is currently scheduled for Dec. 19, though that could change as the date approaches due to the availability of commissioners.
Mississippi Power spokesperson Keith Guillot said the company would support extending the incentives beyond Dec. 31.
The details of what exactly the Gulfport utility will offer its small business customers are still being finalized, he said.
“Mississippi Power looks forward to working with the PSC to continue to help new businesses in their development and encourage the use of existing or vacant buildings,” Guillot said.
Spokespeople for CenterPoint did not respond to messages seeking comment by the time the Mississippi Business Journal went to press last week.