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Presley is pulling for Kemper, but admits it’s a huge risk

June 7th, 2010 5 comments

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley spent the better part of 40 minutes addressing the crowd at the Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon.

While Presley didn’t break any new ground in his remarks about Mississippi Power Company’s plans to build a lignite coal-fired electric plant in Kemper County, he did reinforce his position that the plant represents a huge financial risk for MPC’s 190,000 customers in South Mississippi.

Specifically, Presley said the mechanism that allows MPC to charge its ratepayers for the cost of the facility as it’s being built — known as Construction Work in Progress financing — is particularly unnerving for him.

“All risks and all costs will be borne by the ratepayer,” he said.

Also, the technology the plant will use to generate electricity is new and unproven, Presley said, adding that “we can’t get anybody to put a stamp of approval on it, to promise us that it’s going to work.”

Presley went out of his way several times to say that he hoped the plant was successful, but his was the lone dissent when the PSC held a final vote on the issue.

“I hope the majority of the Commission’s crystal ball is a good one,” he said. “We’re spending other people’s money. I hope and pray it works. If (electric) rates go up, we’ve just made it harder for somebody to go into small business.”

The prudent thing to do, Presley said, would have been to delay the project until some of the murkier issues surrounding the technology are resolved. The unpredictability surrounding things like cap and trade and natural gas prices also presents a risk for jumping head-long into the plant immediately.

“This may be a wonderful project, but there’s no harm in waiting,” Presley said.

UPDATE: See video of Presley’s speech here.

Oil and coal start the week

June 7th, 2010 No comments

So it seems as if the cap BP installed over the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico might be working, at least slightly, depending on who you ask.

If the leak was stopped completely right now, the clean-up and aftermath of billions of gallons of oil floating in the Gulf would be astronomical and take many years to complete.

We’re working on a package of stories for next week’s MBJ taking a look at some of the economics of the disaster.

In other energy news, Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley will address the crowd at today’s Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon. Presley cast the sole “no” vote on Mississippi Power Company’s bid to build a lignite coal-fired electric plant in Kemper County. Presley is never shy about giving his opinion, and today should be no different. Magnolia Marketplace will have the particulars of his speech as soon as we can.

GreenTech news leads off the week

May 24th, 2010 2 comments

Since Charles Wang announced plans last fall to build a hybrid vehicle manufacturing facility in Tunica County, not much has happened, and even less has been heard.

The state’s economic development officials, from the county level all the way up to Gov. Haley Barbour, repeat variations of a theme whenever they’re asked about GreenTech, Wang’s company: The state is waiting for the company to raise capital. Until then, there’s just not much to talk about.

Well, now there is something to talk about, and I’m going to be taking a look at it for a story in next week’s MBJ.

GreenTech has acquired EuAuto, a Hong-Kong based company that designs and builds what are called “NEVs,” or neighborhood electric vehicles. Check out the small story we had about it on our website here.

In a statement, GreenTech Chairman Terry McAuliffe, former head of the Democratic National Committee and failed candidate for governor of Virginia, mentions Mississippi — but not Tunica specifically — as one of GreenTech’s target areas for green job creation. But McAuliffe doesn’t provide any insight into how this acquisition will affect the plans for Tunica. He also doesn’t explain what exactly a NEV, which sounds an awful lot like a golf cart, is. We’ll try to find out answers to those questions and more.

Familiar name among GreenTech leadership

April 22nd, 2010 No comments

In this week’s edition of the MBJ, we took a look at the latest with GreenTech Automotive, the hybrid vehicle company that supposedly wants to build a $1 billion manufacturing facility in Tunica.

Long story short, not much has happened in the six months since Charles Wang, GreenTech’s founder and CEO, held a bizarre groundbreaking that wasn’t really a groundbreaking. The party line from the Mississippi Development Authority and Gov. Haley Barbour then was the state would sit back and wait for GreenTech to raise capital. That’s still the same.

What is new, however, and didn’t really fit into the print story, was an addition to GreenTech’s leadership team.

Terry McAuliffe, whose time as head of the Democratic National Committee was marked by record fundraising, has taken over role of chairman for the company. Since at least a portion of the capital needed to get the project moving will come from the EB-5 investment program, which offers Visas to foreigners who invest a minimum of $500,000 in U.S. economic development projects, GreenTech will need someone who can separate investors from their money. McAuliffe has shown remarkable skill at just that.

When he chaired the DNC from 2001-2005, McAuliffe led an effort that pulled in over half a billion dollars and hauled the DNC out of debt for the first time in its history. He went on to manage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008 and made an unsuccessful bid for governor of Virginia last year.

Barbour, who will tell anybody willing to listen that his first priority is job creation, clearly  has to be intrigued by GreenTech, though he won’t say anything beyond the standard wait-and-see response he’s given since last fall. Barbour sees the energy sector as one that holds a lot of promise for Mississippi.

So it’s interesting that one of Barbour’s long-time political adversaries is playing a major part in what would be a major energy project for the state.

“Terry’s an old friend of mine,” Barbour said recently when we asked him about McAuliffe’s affiliation. “Our politics are different, but I’m grateful he’s involved. I hope they’ll be able to put together their financing.”

GreenTech has been surrounded by a pile of skepticism (and rightfully so) since news of the company broke last fall. A lot of smart automotive folks think the project is a pipe dream; honestly, it probably is. But McAuliffe has a solid fundraising track record. Still, he needs to pull a lot of money-covered rabbits out of a lot of hats.

Musical heritage takes center stage at MEC meeting

April 13th, 2010 1 comment

The Mississippi Economic Council’s annual meeting is this Thursday at the Jackson Convention Complex.

Headlining the event are Gov. Haley Barbour and two Mississippi music legends — Marty Stuart and Dorothy Moore. The meeting will concentrate on the state’s musical heritage, which has become a focal point of the tourism industry with the Mississippi Blues Trail, the B.B. King Museum in Indianola and the recently unveiled Mississippi Country Music Trail.

That Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives will be there is especially exciting for Magnolia Marketplace. Stuart’s early 1990s duets with Travis Tritt have been mainstays on the Official iPod of Magnolia Marketplace. For our money, not many things are finer than spending a spring Friday afternoon commute with the windows down and Marty and Travis blaring on the speakers. This and this are two of the pair’s better efforts, in our humble opinion.

Registration starts Thursday morning at 8:30. Online registration has closed, but you can register on site at the JCC. We’ll be there, and couldn’t be more excited about it.

District at Eastover hits another snag

April 2nd, 2010 2 comments

We’ve been following the District at Eastover, a mixed-use project Jackson developer Ted Duckworth wants to build on the site of the Old Blind School, for six months now.

To be honest, the project seems cursed. Duckworth and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann reached an impasse late last year in their negotiations to hammer out a lease deal. Then, the Legislature tweaked the legislation governing the parameters of the project to allow the state to sell the land instead of lease it. Duckworth said at the time that he couldn’t pursue the project unless he could buy the land.

So things finally started looking like they were gathering momentum until yesterday afterrnoon, when Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed the bill allowing the sale of the land.

“Without the authority to lease the property, the bill would have essentially required the sale of the property at a time when commercial property prices are at historic lows,” Barbour said in his veto message.

Barbour also wants a provision inserted into the bill that would give the state the option of leasing the land, instead of allowing it only to sell it. He also took issue with the clause that would have given the state the right to buy back the land after 10  years if conditions of the development had not been met. “But the bill did not specify the purchase price,” Barbour said. “It is not clear to me whether the repurchase price would account for any improvements made to the property, which would certainly deter potential buyers and lenders alike from investing and developing this property,” Barbour continued.

On the bright side, Barbour said in his veto message that he would include revamped legislation in a special session, if necessary, when the Legislature returns April 20 to finalize a budget for fiscal year 2011.

When this project first hit our radar last fall, it seemed like a win-win. The Old Blind school sits in the middle of one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the state — Eastover — and is not generating any revenue. Because of that, Magnolia Marketplace was convinced a deal would emerge quickly. But valuable land is still being wasted. Maybe there’s still some political paranoia over the state entering into an agreement — whether it’s a lease or sell — with a private party after the disaster of the beef plant. What is certain is the state has a chance to get a much bigger return off the land than what it’s getting now, which is nothing.

This makes entirely too much sense not to get done.

MC to host automotive symposium

March 31st, 2010 34 comments

Mississippi’s automotive industry has had quite a bit of news recently. Toyota is still navigating the recall mess, and Nissan just affirmed plans to start producing light commercial vehicles at its facility in Canton, starting this fall.

Those two topics — and the future of Toyota’s Blue Springs facility — will likely be front and center April 16 at the Mississippi College School of Law in Downtown Jackson. The school will hold an automotive symposium from 1:30-3:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Student Center.

Some familiar names and faces are scheduled to appear. They include Gov. Haley Barbour; David Copenhaver, vice president of Toyota Manufacturing, Mississippi; Jim Barksdale; Paul Johnson, director of the Toyota project at the Mississippi Development Authority; and Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson.

J. Larry Lee, professor of law at MC, will moderate the event.

According to a press release from the school, the symposium and its participants will “assess the risks and opportunities that will define the future of the automotive industry,” a sector government and economic development officials hope will be a significant part of the Mississippi’s economy moving forward.

Mark your calendar. It’s pretty rare to get a group like this in the same room, so there should be some pretty interesting conversation.


Report: Northrop Grumman/EADS will exit tanker bid

March 8th, 2010 2 comments

The Seattle Times is reporting that Northrop Grumman and its partner European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. will pull out of the race for the $35 billion contract to supply the Air Force with a new fleet of refueling tankers.

The paper cites an anonymous source who says the official announcement will come after the stock market closes this afternoon.

There had been rumors that Boeing would eventually have the competition to itself after the Pentagon released the final request for proposals Feb. 24.

For the ST’s full report, click here.

Guns bill dies; competing Eastover legislation still alive

March 3rd, 2010 No comments

Yesterday was a major deadline for legislation at the Capitol, with bills that have already cleared one chamber needing to make it out of committee or die until next session.

Senate Bill 2153, which would have allowed concealed weapon permit holders to carry their firearms into public parks, unsecured public buildings and bars and restaurants — provided owners chose to allow it — died in the House Judiciary B Committee.

Magnolia Marketplace has a story about the legislation in this week’s MBJ. The restaurant owners we talked to were wary, to say the least, of allowing handguns into their buildings. Andy Wilson, who has Underground 119 in Downtown Jackson, was the most adamant, saying the legislation reminded him of the Wild West days when cowboys packed their pistols in swinging-door saloons.

Although the issue is dead for this session, look for it to appear next year. The National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful lobbies in politics, has made this legislation a priority.

The two bills that deal with the Old Blind School property, which Jackson developer Ted Duckworth wants to turn into a mixed-use development, are still active. SB 3097, authored by Jack Gordon, would authorize the state to lease the property for development. Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, has authored House Bill 637, which calls for the state to sell the property to a developer with conditions attached that would allow the state to take it back if those conditions were not met.

We had a story about the competing pieces of legislation about a month ago, in which we learned that Duckworth would most likely pull out of the project if the state insisted on leasing the property instead of selling it. With both the lease and sell bills still alive, Duckworth’s future involvement would seem to be still very much up in the air.

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Toyota reports February sales

March 2nd, 2010 No comments

Toyota has just released its sales figures for the month of February. There is some pretty good and some really bad in the numbers.

The really bad:

Overall sales of Toyotas — excluding Lexus and Scion — for February came in at 100,027 vehicles. That represents a decrease of 8.7 percent from last February.

The Corolla compact and the mid-size Camry and Camry Hybrid were the company’s best-sellers last month. About 17,000 new Corollas rolled off car lots; the Camry and Camry Hybrid combined to sell about 16,500 units.

To go with the foundering automotive market, Toyota had to expect some sales-related fallout from the recall mess the company has been fighting since the calendar turned to 2010.

The decline is magnified by the strong showings General Motors and Ford both posted earlier today. Ford sales increased a whopping 43 percent; GM’s jumped 12 percent.

The good news is that Lexus sales were up 4.5 percent in February 2010, compared with February 2009. The Tacoma mid-size pickup also saw its sales jump almost 6 percent.

What’s even better for Mississippi, where the company maintains it will eventually build the Prius Hybrid, is that sales of the vehicle this past February (7,968 units) were up 10.2 percent from the same period last year.

You can view the entire sales breakdown here.