Archive for December, 2012

Fifth Circuit: Federal anti-spoofing measure preempts Mississippi law

December 28th, 2012 No comments

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in early December that a Mississippi law enacted in 2010 that prohibits “spoofing” is preempted by federal law.

In 2010, Mississippi lawmakers passed and former Gov. Haley Barbour signed the Caller ID Spoofing Act, which made it a misdemeanor to spoof – or falsify – the telephone number of a caller. Spoofing is common among telemarketers.

A federal law also enacted in 2010 made it illegal to spoof with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value.

New Jersey-based telecom TelTech Systems, which provides third-party spoofing services, sued the state, alleging that the Mississippi law did not allow non-harmful spoofing, something the federal law was designed to protect. A district court judge ruled in favor of TelTech, and the defendants – which included Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood – appealed to the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.

In its ruling, a panel of three Fifth Circuit judges said that the legislative notes for the 2010 federal law revealed that “Congress intended to balance carefully the drawbacks of malicious caller ID spoofing against the benefits provided by legitimate caller ID spoofing.”

Spoofing technology has grown in popularity with the rise in smartphone use. Many apps and websites allow users to spoof their information, and even offer technology that can disguise a caller’s voice.

Instances where spoofing is considered legitimate include use by those who work from home, and want to give the impression they’re calling from an office, or professionals who regularly use their cell phones to conduct business but do not want to give out that number.

Judge affirms certificate for Kemper County coal plant

December 18th, 2012 No comments

A chancery judge in Harrison County has affirmed that the certificate of public convenience and necessity for the Kemper County coal plant is valid.

The Sierra Club had argued that it was not, and that the Mississippi Public Service Commission should conduct a full round of evidentiary hearings before deciding whether to issue another one. The Sierra Club’s action was in response to the Mississippi Supreme Court’s kicking the issue back to the PSC earlier this year because justices said the original certificate, issued in 2010, did not cite sufficient evidence from the record of proceedings.

Commissioners issued a second certificate over the summer. Construction on the plant, which began in 2010, has continued while the litigation unfolded.

“Mississippi Power customers are the ones who will benefit from this important decision,” Ed Day, president and CEO of Mississippi Power, said in a statement Tuesday morning.

The Sierra Club will appeal Monday’s ruling, state director of the Mississippi chapter Louie Miller said. “We’ll probably ask for an expedited appeal,” Miller said in a phone interview, referring to the possibility that the appeal could languish at the supreme court for several months.

Public service commissioners ruled over the summer that they would not entertain any rate increases associated with the plant until the Mississippi Supreme Court had ruled on the latest round of litigation surrounding it. That ruling came after a hearing in which Mississippi Power asked for a 13 percent rate increase that would have generated about $58 million. Monday’s chancery court ruling now opens the door for the litigation to proceed to the high court.

Rate increase estimates attached to the plant have varied. Documents Mississippi Power filed with the commission in 2009 said rates would go up an average of 45 percent. In the order granting the second certificate, commissioners said rate increases would peak at 33 percent before going back down.

Day said earlier this year that the sale of the plant’s by-products would generate more revenue than originally anticipated, keeping rate increases under 30 percent.

The $2.88 billion plant is scheduled to begin operation in May 2014.

Barbour: Vetting process for Twin Creeks was sound

December 14th, 2012 1 comment

Former Gov. Haley Barbour says the vetting process for Twin Creeks revealed a company that had an advantage over its competitors because it used 4 percent as much silicon to make its solar panels.

That wasn’t enough to keep the company from going under, and owing the state just more than $27 million in aid used to build an 80,000 square-foot facility in Senatobia and to purchase equipment to put in it. China’s decision to flood the U.S. solar panel market with products even cheaper than Twin Creeks’ was what did the company in, Barbour said, echoing what Mississippi Development Authority officials have said recently.

“We thought it was a company that could compete very successfully,” Barbour said in an interview with the Mississippi Business Journal. “They had an agreement to sell quite a large number of solar panels in India. Indian officials even came to the groundbreaking. Those expected contracts fell through when the Chinese ran the price down so much. So while Twin Creeks could beat everybody’s price over here, the Chinese didn’t care what the price was. The Chinese were interested in employment. They’ll sell the solar panels for whatever they get. They don’t care about profit.”

To go with its contracts in India, Barbour said Twin Creeks had more than $100 million in private investment committed, something he called “a key indicator” as to whether the company was legitimate.

Barbour said the state has had success with start-ups before, pointing to steelmaker SeverCorr (now Severstal) in Columbus.

“We spent about $35 million on their facility in Columbus – site prep, drainage, and the like,” Barbour said. “Then we gave them a $60 million loan guarantee, which they have paid off. We’re in that deal about $35 million and they’re in it several hundred million dollars.”

Barbour did not praise or criticize current Gov. Phil Bryant’s recent assertion that the state would be more interested in investing in established companies with a track record of success, rather than start-ups like Twin Creeks.

“For us, when we looked at something that was a start-up, it always came back to how much private investors were putting in. It’s up to (the Bryant administration) to set the policies, to fine-tune them how they think is best. Nobody’s crystal ball is perfect.”

MDA boss: Incentives here to stay

December 12th, 2012 No comments

Mississippi Development Authority executive director Brent Christensen said that agency will examine the possibility of lending financial help to start-up companies like Twin Creeks “with a different eye,” and any aid package will likely look different than those of the past.

Christensen, in his first extended session with the media Wednesday morning, also released a report that detailed the amount of economic development incentives the state has issued since fiscal year 2008. Christensen added that he will make the release of similar data an annual thing.

Numbers show that from FY 2008 until the end of FY 2012 last June, the state gave out incentives totaling $520,397,565 in the form of grants, loans, tax credits, tax rebates and other devices. Those incentives resulted in a total of 32,268 jobs being committed, though MDA CFO Kathy Gelston said some of the incentives were for job-retention programs, which means those jobs have already been realized.

Eliminating duplicate job counts, the incentive-per-job ratio comes to $20,794.

How they’re given and who receives incentives is getting a fresh look at the MDA, Christensen said, and not just because of the recent failure of Twin Creeks. The Senatobia solar panel manufacturer owes the state $26 million it got to build its 80,000 square-foot facility and to purchase equipment. The MDA is marketing the building in an attempt to find a tenant. The state also has sued Twin Creeks in an attempt to recoup some or all of its investment.

Christensen, like Gov. Phil Bryant recently, said the state would be hesitant to go into business with start-up companies like Twin Creeks.

“And if we do, our incentive packages will likely look different than they have,” Christensen said. “We’ll continue to look at those kind of projects, just with a different eye. There has to be significant private investment.” Private investment in Twin Creeks had reached $100 million. The state chipped in $25 million of a $50 million loan package that was available.

State aid in newer or start-up companies will probably help with workforce development and infrastructure, instead of actually financing the company, Christensen said. Ghelston said companies having in-hand the money to build their facility would likely be a requirement, too.

What will not change is the actual practice of issuing incentives, Christensen said. “The only way they go away is the federal government bans them, which would lead to widespread litigation, or all 50 states get in a room and agree to drop their weapons,” Christensen said.

The Southeastern U.S. is particularly competitive when it comes to economic development. Christensen listed Alabama’s recently upping its ceiling on incentives by $130 million via referendum, designed to help that state land Airbus suppliers connected to the aircraft manufacturer’s Mobile facility.

South Mississippi wants in on those suppliers, Christensen said, and incentives will be a part of that pursuit.

Workers’ rights groups forge deal with Southern Co. for Kemper plant

December 11th, 2012 No comments

The Mississippi AFL-CIO and the Central Mississippi Building and Construction Trade Council have forged an agreement with Southern Co. that will have members from both organizations working on the Kemper County coal plant.

Mississippi Power Co., a subsidiary of Southern Co., is building the plant.

Neither the AFL-CIO’s Robert Shaffer nor the CMBCTC’s David Newell would give many details about the deal. Newell said the agreement is “to finish the project.”

They both urged the Sierra Club to drop their opposition to the project. The environmental advocacy group has long fought the coal plant, calling it dirty, expensive and unnecessary.

Tuesday morning’s announcement contrasts sharply with what Newell told the Mississippi Business Journal earlier this year. Newell said during the summer that Southern Co. had reneged on a similar deal, and that the plant was likely to be poorly built and well over budget because the company was not using his membership. Philadelphia-based Yates Construction Co. and Texas-based KBR, who were the project’s original contractors, took exception to that. Each said its history of delivering quality work on time and on budget was proof that it could do the same with the Kemper plant.

“I don’t know” what made Southern Co. reverse its position on dealing with the two organizations, Newell said. “Maybe they need our skills now more than ever.” Newell said the current deal had been in the works about three months.

Shaffer said the AFL-CIO had been in negotiations with Southern Co. since construction started on the plant in 2010. “You never know why corporations do certain things, because you’re dealing with so many different people, you never really know who’s pulling the strings,” he said.

Workers from both organizations are already on site. Shaffer said the number of workers would likely “start to build up pretty rapidly after the first of the year.” Newell said whether existing workers will have to join either the AFL-CIO or the CMBCTC “has not been decided yet.” It was also unclear how forcing them to would violate Mississippi’s right-to-work statute.

Independent monitors hired by the Mississippi Public Service Commission and the Public Utilities Staff have issued different estimates recently that put the cost of building the plant between $2.88 billion and $3.15 billion. A Mississippi Power spokesperson said last month that the company still expects the project to cost $2.88 billion or less. Public service commissioners have capped at $2.88 billion the costs Mississippi Power can pass to its ratepayers. Any pass-through costs above $2.4 billion must meet prudency requirements before commissioners will approve them.

Commissioners over the summer denied Mississippi Power’s request to raise rates about 13 percent to generate $58 million for the plant. Commissioners said then they would not consider anymore rate increase requests related to Kemper until the Mississippi Supreme Court had ruled on the latest round of litigation involving the company and the Sierra Club. A Harrison County chancellor is currently considering the issue. Whoever is on the losing end of that ruling will almost certainly appeal to the state’s high court.

The plant is scheduled to begin commercial operation in 2014.

Third term secured, Knight prepares to advance Farm Bureau’s legislative agenda

December 7th, 2012 No comments

Randy Knight was elected in early December to his third term as president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.

Like most heads of advocacy organizations, Knight is finalizing Farm Bureau’s agenda for the upcoming legislative session, which starts Jan. 8.

Near the top of the legislative wish list is making sure no changes are made to the state’s animal cruelty law, which was passed in 2011 after a compromise between Farm Bureau and animal rights groups. It makes a second offense a felony.

“We’d love to see that compromise upheld,” Knight said.

Legislation legalizing deer farming, an issue packaged as a one that will drive economic development by attracting out-of-state hunters to deer farms, has failed the past few sessions. Allowing it would endanger livestock, Knight said.

“It carries significant risk of disease.” Deer farming is legal in 33 states.

Also on the legislative agenda is some kind of reform to the state’s cattle theft laws. According to 2011 numbers provided by Mississippi State University’s Extension Service, an average of 250 cattle are stolen per year. That number could rise, with droughts in Texas and the Midwest shrinking the U.S. cattle herd and driving up prices.

It involves more than rustlers stealing cows out of a pasture, Knight said. Buyers at sale barns can pose as legitimate cattle companies and make off with truckloads of cows because they’re allowed 48 hours to tender payment. Any legislation would have to protect sellers, Knight said.

Knight said his primary mission for Farm Bureau itself will be to grow the federation’s membership. He said the number of member families in 2012 exceeded 200,000 for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.

“Our emphasis is educating the general public on what Farm Bureau does,” Knight said. “If people knew how we stood up for them in the Legislature and in Washington, more people would want to be a member of Farm Bureau.

“And we’re always growing our education process,” Knight continued. “If we don’t tell our story, and what we’re doing on the farm and how we’re taking care of our animals, somebody else is going to tell it for us. And it won’t be told the right way.”


Group exploring construction of oil refinery in Winston County

December 5th, 2012 No comments

A public meeting was held last week in Winston County to discuss the possibility of an oil refinery being built there.

Philadelphia mayor James A. Young, who serves as president of SNC Energy, the company behind the proposal, said the refinery is in the initial planning stages.

Young said SNC has begun the process of conducting a feasibility study. “I tell people all the time it costs nothing to look,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday morning. “They think they want to put it there if the feasibility study goes well.”

The Neshoba Democrat (story here) first reported news of the project, which carries ambitious job-creation numbers: 5,000 employed by the time the refinery opens in 2014.

A website for SNC Energy only listed an email address. Officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One of the refinery’s investors is Winston County native Milton Hughes, who owns a California-based credit card processing company.

The refinery would not be a drilling operation, but would rely on existing pipelines to pump oil to the facility. The permitting process for refineries can stretch for decades, and is a big reason why one has not been built in the U.S. since the 1970s.

The CEO of Safeguard Consulting, to whom Young referred questions about specific project details, did not immediately return a cell phone message seeking comment.

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Lowndes County extends deadline for Silicor, with conditions

December 3rd, 2012 1 comment

Silicor Materials, which manufacturers silicon for solar energy production, received a six-month extension Monday to secure financing and break ground at its facility in Lowndes County, contingent upon the company putting up $150,000 in earnest money.

It’s the second extension the company has gotten. It missed the first deadline in September, and Silicor officials told Lowndes County officials last month they would miss the second one, scheduled for Dec. 31. The company has cited difficulty securing financing as the primary reason behind the delays.

Silicor has until Dec. 31 to put the earnest money into escrow, Harry Sanders, president of the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors, told the Mississippi Business Journal Monday afternoon. If the company fails to do that, he said, the county’s incentives are canceled and the deal is off.

The deal will also be off if, by June 30, 2013, the company has not secured financing and regulatory permits and broken ground. The company will also forfeit the earnest money. Silicor had planned to build on 90 acres owned by the county at Lowndes County’s industrial park. “We just can’t keep holding that land for them,” Sanders said.

Sanders said the county had done infrastructure upgrades to the site, but that work had been planned before Silicor made it known it was interested in it.

The project would represent a $200 million investment by Silicor, which planned to employ almost 1,000 people at the facility once it opened.

In a special session in September 2011, lawmakers approved a $75 million incentive package for the company, known then as Calisolar, including $59.5 million for construction of the facility and equipment to put in it, $11 million for infrastructure and $4.5 million for workforce training. Lowndes County also pledged $19 million. None of that money has actually been spent, though, because it was contingent upon Silicor breaking ground on its facility and reaching other milestones afterward.

Silicor’s struggles come right after Twin Creeks, another state-backed alternative energy project, failed. Twin Creeks had planned to make solar panels at an 80,000 square-foot plant in Senatobia, but the company never started production and has dissolved after being sold. The buyer, GT Advanced Technologies, will not honor the agreement with the state, which loaned Twin Creeks $26 million to build the plant and stock it with equipment. State officials are currently trying to settle with Twin Creeks and find a tenant for the Senatobia facility.


Categories: Silicor Materials, Twin Creeks Tags: