Bentz: Sierra Club claim about Kemper overrun incorrect (Updated)
The Sierra Club has filed papers with the Mississippi Supreme Court asking justices to direct the Mississippi Public Service Commission to supply records pertaining to a $366 million cost overrun at Mississippi Power Co.’s Kemper County coal plant.
The overrun was revealed in May 2012, shortly after the PSC reissued the plant’s certificate of public convenience and necessity. Regulators reissued the certificate after the state high court invalidated the first one that was issued in 2010, saying in a ruling that it did not properly cite the record of proceedings.
Southern District Commissioner Leonard Bentz and his staff have been investigating when the utility knew about the overrun. Bentz said in May that gathering information the past year has been difficult because former Mississippi Power president Ed Day had ordered it withheld. Day resigned last month and was replaced by Ed Holland.
In a Wednesday press release, the Sierra Club said Bentz and Central District Commissioner Lynn Posey – who along with Bentz has voted in favor of the project – should have known about the $366 million overrun when they voted to reissue the plant’s certificate.
The environmental advocacy organization, which has long opposed the plant, says a timeline prepared by Mississippi Power shows that both the utility and commissioners knew about the overrun in March 2012.
Bentz disputed that in an interview Thursday morning. He said regulators had been alerted by their independent monitors that there were “cost constraints” related to the plant.
“But we never knew a number” until Mississippi Power revealed the $366 million overrun, he said. “Our issue is about the power company not giving us the information we requested.”
Bentz said the investigation into when the utility knew about the overrun should be finished by early August.
“And if need be, we’ll have hearings,” Bentz said. “That’s a fact. We’re even looking at some options on the prudency hearings to make sure that (MPC) will not be given the green light before we get to the bottom of this. That’s in the best interest of the ratepayer.”
The coal plant is scheduled to start commercial operation in May 2014. Bentz reiterated that the utility, per the terms of a settlement with the PSC, will be allowed to charge ratepayers no more than $2.4 billion in construction costs. “That’s always been the number,” he said.
UPDATE: Thursday afternoon, the Mississippi Supreme Court consolidated two different sets of litigation surrounding the project. Justices also ordered that attorneys for a Hattiesburg resident who is challenging the Baseload Act — the 2008 law that allows utilities to charge ratepayers for facilities as they are being built — and Mississippi Power submit briefs related to the issue within 30 days. That would set July 21 as the briefing deadline. The court heard oral arguments on the Baseload issue earlier this year.