All but $3.6 million of $377 million in rate refunds related to Mississippi Power Co.’s Kemper County plant are back in the hands of customers, auditors say.
The utility has complied with the refund order “in all material respects,” the Hattiesburg accounting firm of Topp McWhorther Harvey told members of the Mississippi Public Service Commission on Thursday.
The remaining money represents uncashed checks that Mississippi Power issued. In some cases, the money belongs to customers who closed their accounts and moved away. The utility mailed a check to their last known address. Mississippi Power will hold the money for five years, then turn it over to the unclaimed property unit of the state treasurer’s office.
Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley urged the unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co. to take additional efforts, including publishing names of people who haven’t cashed their checks, to convey refunds.
“There’s $3 million sitting out there and we need to get it in the hands of private citizens,” said Presley, a Nettleton Democrat.
Presley urged the company to publish the names of people with uncashed refunds, but commission lawyer Shawn Shurden said there were privacy concerns associated with such a move.
Mississippi Power spokesman Jeff Shepard said company officials are in discussions about options to find the owners of the remaining money with the Public Utilities Staff, the separate agency that develops policy proposals for the commissioners
Refunds were completed by Dec. 4. The audit states $117 million went to residential customers, $132 million went to commercial businesses, $128 million went to industries and $400,000 went to governments that pay for street lighting. The majority of the uncollected refunds, $2.4 million, belong to 20,000 residential accounts.
The state Supreme Court ordered Mississippi Power in 2015 to send refunds to its 186,000 customers — money the court found was part of an illegal rate increase between April 2013 and July 2015 after a challenge by Hattiesburg oilman Thomas Blanton.
The court found the increase illegal because regulators didn’t conduct hearings to ensure Mississippi Power was spending prudently on the $6.8 billion Kemper plant. It also ruled that regulators used an illegal rate structure, didn’t notify all ratepayers and broke public meetings law by negotiating a deal in private.
Mississippi Power borrowed the refund money from parent Southern Co. After the company said it was strapped for cash, commissioners granted a 15 percent rate increaseto pay for equipment now generating electricity at the plant.
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