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PSC sets schedule for resolution of Kemper case

By JACK WEATHERLY

The Mississippi Public Service Commission on Tuesday set Mississippi Power Co. and the Public Utilities Staff on a course that could allow the regulators to decide by January the rate case related to the troubled Kemper County power plant.

A hearing was set for Dec. 4.

The PSC on June 21 said that it would order the utility not to operate the plant on nor charge customers for electricity produced by gasified lignite coal

A week later Mississippi Power said it would halt its gasification efforts.

The commission on July 6 gave the power company 45 days, till Aug. 21, to work out with the staff, which is independent of the commission, a settlement with no rate increase for customers. No agreement was reached by then, and so the regulators extended the deadline till Sept. 8.

The company and staff disagreed by at least $250 million on assets the utility would be allowed to charge its 187,000 customers in 23 counties. Mississippi Power is the third-largest electric utility in Mississippi behind Entergy and and Cooperative Electric.

Efforts to perfect the first-of-its-kind “syngas” power plant were plagued from the beginning, pushing costs from the original $2.9 billion estimate to $7.5 billion.

Mississippi Power issued a statement Tuesday, saying that it had complied with the order, stating that its proposal “would not raise customers’ rates to pay for the costs of the new natural gas. . . . Southern Company and Mississippi Power have shielded customers and kept rates stable by paying more than $6 billion for the costs associated with the gasification portion of the project.”

The plant was more than three years behind schedule. It has been producing electricity by using natural gas for three years and sporadically on syngas.

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