Archive for July, 2012

Supreme Court denies Miss. Power’s rate increase (Updated with clarification)

July 31st, 2012 No comments

Mississippi Power is now 0-2 when it comes to collecting money to pay for its Kemper County coal plant.

The Mississippi Public Service Commission in June denied a 13 percent rate increase that would have generated about $58 million. The company quickly appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which affirmed the PSC’s ruling Tuesday afternoon. The court voted 8-0 to deny the rate increase. Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. did not participate.

Public service commissioners said in their denial that they would take no action on rate increases until litigation surrounding the plant had concluded. The Sierra Club has the  plant — which the group contends is an expensive and  unnecessary environmental hazard — before a Harrison County chancellor. This is the second legal challenge the Sierra Club has mounted against the facility.

CLARIFICATION AND UPDATE: The Court ruled Tuesday that the company could not raise rates while it appeals the PSC’s rate denial. The appeal itself is still pending. Also, Mississippi Power has issued a statement. Here it is, verbatim:

“While we certainly respect the actions of the state Supreme Court, we view their decision on our motion to grant interim rates as a loss for our customers that will result in increased costs related to the Kemper plant,” said spokesperson Jeff Shepard. “We anxiously await the Court’s decision on our appeal. Our goal, as always, is to do what is in the best interest of our customers while maintaining reliable and safe electric service.


Party chairs assess the past and lay out plans for the future

July 30th, 2012 No comments

The chairs of Mississippi’s two major political parties on Monday assessed how the state’s political dynamic got to where it is, and how they intend either to keep it that way or turn the tables.

Joe Nosef and Rickey Cole spoke to a crowd of about 70 people at Monday’s meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps.

“One thing we’re not going to do is sit around and pat ourselves on the back,” said Nosef, chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party. Nosef and the GOP have had a good run recently, gaining control of each chamber of the Legislature last year and welcoming more than 50 party switchers the past few years. To go with that, seven of Mississippi’s eight statewide elected officials are Republicans, and the party holds a majority on the Mississippi Transportation Commission and the Mississippi Public Service Commission.

Couple that with the party switchers – the vast majority of whom were local officials, where Democrats held sway for decades – and Mississippi has cemented itself as a Republican stronghold.

The reason for that, Nosef said, is the national Democratic party has moved so far left that its policies have left no room for conservatives. “There’s a saying that’s developed in Mississippi, and I believe it’s true and I say it with no rancor whatsoever, that here you can either be a conservative or a Democrat,” Nosef said.

Democratic chairman Cole said there were two reasons Democrats have lost power and Republicans have gained it.

“The first is, Haley Barbour came home and brought Washington politics to Mississippi,” he said. “And the second is that we were asleep at the wheel. We didn’t have the organization and we’ve been looking for that knight in shining armor to ride in and save us. We were looking for the Democrat Haley Barbour and we’ve yet to find him. Now we have the hard work of a generation – not just an election cycle – to create a viable political party.” Cole pointed to Attorney General Jim Hood, the lone statewide elected Democrat who’s serving his third term, and the defeat of the Personhood Amendment last fall as evidence that Mississippi is not an automatically red state.

A good start to ensuring that becomes the case is to enact good policy, Nosef said. “We have to govern right,” he said. He pointed to this past legislative session’s passage of the Sunshine Act and medical industry incentives as examples of that.


Categories: Haley Barbour, Joe Nosef, Rickey Cole Tags:

Report: Performance-based pay system for teachers has to be flexible

July 27th, 2012 No comments

Gov. Phil Bryant in his State of the State Address called for an examination of how Mississippi might implement a performance-based compensation system for teachers

The results of a report – “Effective Teachers and Performance Pay” — compiled by Mississippi State University’s Research and Curriculum Unit that did just that were unveiled Friday at a news conference in Jackson.

The gist: Flexibility is a requirement for any system that rewards teachers for excellence. Specifically, the state can set loose parameters for how a system would operate, but it would be up to a school district’s superintendent to determine what benchmarks teachers would have to meet in order to receive the monetary reward, which could be a bonus or a full-blown pay raise. Officials from MSU’s RCU said that similar programs in other states have shown that leaving a compensation system’s design up to individual district works better than anything else.

Julie Jordan, RCU director, said those benchmarks could take in a number of areas, like graduates rates or scores on specific areas of state tests, and would most likely try to improve an area of a school district that has lagged behind.

“The single factor most affecting student learning is ineffective teaching,” Jordan said. Jordan added that no performance-based compensation plan without the integration of the M-STAR teacher evaluation system into it. M-STAR – the Mississippi State Teacher Appraisal Rubric – is an assessment system the state Department of Education plans to begin on a pilot basis this fall.

Funding the program would be up to individual superintendents, too. Ideally, Bryant said Friday, the funding would come from the pool of money that has been used for what the state calls “step raises” for teachers who have a certain level of seniority. District supplements could also be used. Bryant didn’t rule out employing one or more existing education funding sources at the state level to pay for it.

The report is nothing more than a recommendation now. Bryant said he hopes that changes come January, when the 2013 legislative session starts. By releasing the report now, nearly six months before the session starts, Bryant said the plan is for legislators to become as familiar as they can with it so when they get to Jackson the legislative process can start immediately.

MSU’s CAVS program honored by Southern Growth Policies Board

July 24th, 2012 No comments

Mississippi State University’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems Extension recently won a 2012 Innovator Award from the Southern Growth Policies Board.


CAVS, which is based in Canton and was created about a decade ago to work with Nissan, was specifically cited for its “Enhancing On-the-Job Problem Solving” training program. The award is given to programs and initiatives “that are improving the economy and quality of life in the South,” according to SGPB.


The problem solving program was funded by a $660,000 federal stimulus grant administered by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security. The MDES and the Mississippi Development Authority shared oversight of the program.


According to a MSU press release, 60 percent of the 400 Nissan workers who completed the 15-month project have received a pay raise. The program also provided training for Nissan’s suppliers and other partners.


CAVS Extension is affiliated with the Engagement and Outreach Service at MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering, which developed and delivered the training program with CAVS Extension and Holmes Community College, whose primary service area includes central Mississippi.


An analysis conducted after the program began revealed that 5.8 percent of Mississippi’s automotive workers had higher-order skills — short of the 10.5 percent national average. To help close the gap, the program provided instruction with a three-pronged curriculum: instrumentation and diagnostics, problem-solving methodologies and teaming topics.


Researchers and faculty  with the Bagley College of Engineering trained students to use specialized data-gathering equipment and analysis software. CAVS Extension provided specialized problem-solving training and spawned projects designed to solve chronic problems from students’ companies.


Holmes Community College provided training aimed at improving students’ communication, leadership and collaboration skills.

Categories: Nissan Tags:

Rebel, Bulldog Sports Radio apps now offering trivia challenge

July 17th, 2012 No comments

If you’re one of the 20,000 folks who listen to either Bulldog Sports Radio or Rebel Sports Radio, you’re about to get a chance to show how knowledgeable you are.

Starting Tuesday, fans of each school can complete in the “Ultimate Fan Challenge” on either the Bulldog or Rebel Sports Radio apps (both are free and available on most every smartphone) by answering a series of trivia questions. Based on the number of questions answered correctly, competitors can earn badges that range from “Waterboy” to “Ultimate Rebel” or “Ultimate Bulldog.”

VSporto, the Ridgeland-based company that developed the radio programming about a year ago, has teamed with BankPlus to offer the Challenge.

The technology behind the Challenge is original to VSporto. The Click-To Anything advertising offers the company’s advertisers flexibility to create any number of interactive smart phone experiences for consumers.

Keith Jasper, who founded VSporto, called the technology groundbreaking. “This provides one of the most interactive consumer experiences ever and it’s a testament to the versatility of the VSporto platform,” he said in a press release.

BankPlus chief marketing and business development officer Rob Armour said the technology offers new ways for the bank to interact with customers and potential customers. “We’re pleased to partner with VSporto on this innovative way to engage sports fans across our state,” he said in a press release.

Each of the channels carries 24-hour coverage of Ole Miss and Mississippi State, with all-original programming featuring former athletes, media and fans.

UPDATE: I thought we had video of Jasper talking about his company. Turns out, we do. It’s from a couple months ago. Check it here.


Categories: BankPlus, Mississippi State, VSporto Tags:

Moody’s places Miss. Power on review for credit downgrade

July 16th, 2012 No comments

Moody’s Investor Service late last week placed Mississippi Power Co.’s ratings on review for downgrade.

It’s the second rating agency in two weeks to either downgrade the company’s credit rating or consider doing so. On July 3 Fitch Ratings downgraded MCP from “A” to A-.” Fitch also revised the company’s rating outlook from “stable” to “negative.”

Moody’s does not sound prepared to go that far, at least not yet. In a press release, Moody’s said it would keep Southern Co.’s ratings outlook stable, and that the downgrade review would not result in MPC’s rating dropping more than one notch from its current rating of “A2.”

Like Fitch, Moody’s said the company’s credit rating likely would not completely recover until the Kemper County coal plant started commercial operation, which is scheduled for May 2014. Both agencies cited decreased cash flow as one of the main drivers of their decision.

Cash flow, company officials have said, will suffer until cost recovery is allowed for the Kemper facility. On June 22, public service commissioners voted 3-0 not to consider rate increases tied to the coal plant until the Mississippi Supreme Court has its say on the Sierra Club’s latest challenge to it.

Miss. Power appeals rate increase denial to Miss. Supreme Court

July 9th, 2012 No comments

A few hours after another overrun for its Kemper County coal plant was revealed, Mississippi Power Co. said Monday it was appealing the Public Service Commission’s decision not to act on rate increase requests until the litigation surrounding the facility is finished.

The company appealed the PSC’s order to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

On June 22, commissioners voted 3-0 to deny a 13 percent rate increase the company wanted to employ to help pay for the Kemper plant. The increase would have generated about $58 million. As part of the denial, commissioners said they would not rule on any rate increase requests until the state’s high court had its say on the Sierra Club’s latest legal challenge to the facility. The environmental advocacy organization has opposed the plant from the jump, calling it expensive and unnecessary.

Mississippi Power’s appeal includes a motion for interim rate relief, according to a company release. Company officials have said the PSC’s denial could potentially preclude the recovery of construction costs until after the facility is completed, due to a possibly lengthy litigation timeline.

“The collection of interest costs for the plant during construction will accomplish two important objectives,” Moses Feagin, vice president and chief financial officer, said in the release. “One, to lower the overall cost of the plant for our customers, and two, to reduce the potential rate shock they would have otherwise experienced.”

Last week, Fitch Ratings downgraded MPC’s credit rating from “A” to “A-.” The ratings agency also revised the company’s rating outlook from “stable” to “negative.”

Latest Kemper report: Construction costs creep closer to cap

July 9th, 2012 No comments

The Kemper coal plant’s Independent Monitors’ Report for the period through the end of May shows the project has crept closer to the $2.88 billion cap the Public Service Commission imposed on it.

Mississippi Power Co. now estimates that the cost to build the lignite coal-fired generation facility will reach $2.822 billion. It’s the second report in a row that lists an overrun. The report for the period through the end of April estimated construction costs at $2.76 billion.

MPC officials originally estimated that they could build the plant for $2.4 billion. The latest  report exceeds that figure by $422 million.

In late June, commissioners voted 3-0 to wait until the Mississippi Supreme Court has its final say on litigation related to the project to take any action on proposed rate increases MPC hopes to use to pay for the plant.


Presley to file challenge to new oversight removal law

July 3rd, 2012 No comments

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley intends to challenge the constitutionality of a new law that removes the “carrier of last resort” mandate from AT&T and other layers of oversight from phone companies operating in Mississippi.

Presley, the Commission’s lone Democrat, said in an interview Monday that he sees the potential for rural customers to have their landline phone service eliminated, now that AT&T is no longer mandated by law to provide service to those areas. Presley also said the law’s removing single-line phone service rates from PSC jurisdiction violates the Mississippi Constitution.

Specifically, Presley cites Article 7, Section 186, which requires the Legislature to pass laws that allow for the “supervision” of telephone companies, among others, either by a commission or other entity.

“I intend to challenge this on behalf of little communities like Randolph and Dennis and Dumas – little places where customers have been paying a phone bill all these years, and they don’t deserve to have the rug jerked out from under them or have to pay out the nose is this bill stands,” Presley said.

Presley, who is challenging the bill as a private citizen and not in his capacity as a public service commissioner, said he hopes to file court papers in Hinds County Circuit Court either late this week or early next week.

Fitch downgrades Miss. Power’s credit rating after rate increase denied

July 3rd, 2012 No comments

Fitch Ratings on Tuesday downgraded Mississippi Power Co.’s Issuer Default  from “A” to A-.”

Fitch also revised the company’s rating outlook from “stable” to “negative.”

The rating agency said the downgrades were in response to the Mississippi Public Service Commission’s order from late June in which commissioners denied a revenue increase the company had requested in connection with the Kemper County coal plant. MPC officials testified at a hearing that in order to raise about $58 million to apply toward the plant, customer rates would need to increase by 13 percent.

In denying the rate increase, commissioners said they would take no action on rate increases associated with the Kemper facility until the Mississippi Supreme Court has its say on litigation surround it. The Sierra Club currently has the issue before a Harrison County chancellor for the second time.

No matter the outcome at the chancery court level, it’s expected to reach the state’s high court again.

Fitch also expressed concern with the 15 percent cost overrun MPC revealed to monitors in May. Currently, the plant’s projected cost sits at $2.76 billion, 15 percent more than the original estimate of $2.4 billion.

“Fitch’s financial analysis indicates that if the project becomes operational within the currently projected capital costs and schedule, and based on the assumption that the MPSC authorizes a timely recovery of both capital and operating costs, Mississippi Power’s credit metrics are expected to revert to Fitch’s guideline ratios of a low risk ‘A-‘ rated utility company by 2015,” Fitch said in a press release. “Until then, however, Fitch expects Mississippi Power’s credit metrics to remain considerably weak.”