Monitors: November 2014 most likely start date for Kemper plant

November 28th, 2012 No comments

In its latest report, the independent monitors hired by the Mississippi Public Service Commission’s Public Utilities Staff say the most likely date Mississippi Power Co.’s Kemper County coal plant will start commercial operation is November 2014.

That’s six months later than MPC had originally said the plant would start producing electricity.

In its analysis, Burns and Roe Engineering Inc. estimated there was an 80 percent chance the plant would begin operation on or before Dec. 20, 2014; a 50 percent chance it starts on or before Nov. 29, 2014; and a 20 percent chance the same happens by Nov. 6, 2014.

That’s the only new revelation made in the report, filed with the PUS Nov. 26. Monitors said there was a 90 percent chance the plant’s final cost would be between $3 billion and $3.15 billion, which has been their estimate for several months. Mississippi Power said last month it can complete the plant for $2.88 billion, which is the hard cost cap commissioners imposed on the project. The company also said in October that the target date for commercial operation to start was still May 2014.

Mississippi Power spokesman Jeff Shepard reiterated the cost and timeline Wednesday in an email to the Mississippi Business Journal. Shepard noted that monitors hired by the PSC said in their latest report that there is a 72 percent chance the project’s cost will come in at or under $2.88 billion.

“As the project nears completion, the company will continue to assess both costs and schedule and will continue to submit monthly reports to the Commission and Public Utilities Staff reflecting any adjustments as warranted,” Shepard wrote.

The Kemper facility is still the subject of litigation between Mississippi Power and the Sierra Club, which opposes the project. A Harrison County chancery judge has yet to rule on the environmental group’s latest challenge to the plant, though a decision is expected by the end of 2012 or in early 2013. Whoever the chancellor rules against will almost certainly appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court. Commissioners ruled over the summer that they would not entertain any rate increase requests related to the project until the state’s high court had its say on the matter. That decision came after Mississippi Power had asked for a 13 percent rate increase that would have generated about $58 million.


Toyota executive: U.S. sales trending upward

November 28th, 2012 No comments

Toyota Motor Sales USA president and CEO Jim Lentz sounded optimistic Tuesday about the future of the automotive industry.

Lentz was speaking at the National Automobile Dealers Association’s Western Automotive Conference in Los Angeles.

Lentz cited industry data that projected total U.S. sales for all automakers in 2012 would reach 14.3 million vehicles, which would be an increase of about 500,000 from 2011. Lentz listed pent-up demand as one of the market conditions driving up sales.

“In the U.S., there are more than 245 million cars on the road, and the average age of these vehicles has hit a record high of 11 years old. More than 20-percent of these cars are over 16 years old. Second, car loans have never been cheaper. Banks are charging the lowest interest rates since the Federal Reserve began its survey of loans over four decades ago. Third, and the best news, the J.D. Power Information Network says younger buyers are returning to the market at a higher rate than any other age category, which bodes well for market longevity.”

A large portion of those returning buyers, Lentz said, will be Hispanics. Lentz cited industry research whose results showed the U .S. Hispanic population will have $1.5 trillion in buying power by 2015.

Lentz also touched on a number of safety initiatives Toyota has going. The company partnered with the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute to conduct a distracted driving study that involved 5,500 teens and adults. The study’s preliminary results found that teens’ distracted driving habits are an emulation of their parents’ behavior. The results also showed that teens texted while driving 26 times more than their parents thought they did.

“As a father, one of the key takeaways I got from the study is, you need to be the driver you want your teen to be,” Lentz said.

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Initial work on Tanglefoot Trail entering last stages

November 26th, 2012 No comments

Work on the 44-mile Tanglefoot Trail has reached Chickasaw County, where it will end in downtown Houston.

The recreational trail, which runs from New Albany to Houston, is the old Gulf Mobile and Ohio railroad. It’s modeled after South Mississippi’s Longleaf Trace, and is expected to have a similar economic impact, estimated at $5 million annually, and mainly driven by users, estimated at 100,000 per year.

The prospects of development around the trail have officials in Union, Pontotoc and Chickasaw counties excited. To go about that as smartly as possible, Mississippi State University’s Carl Small Town Center is running test scenarios related to different methods of growing the adjacent areas. Researchers are using first-of-its-kind software to determine best-case scenarios. Details can be found in this Mississippi Business Journal story from September.

The Chickasaw Journal, one of the MBJ’s sister publications, has the details on the trail entering its final stages of preliminary construction here. Its opening is scheduled for late spring or early summer 2013.

With McGee’s seat open, list of possible replacements already includes one name

November 20th, 2012 No comments

Rep. Kevin McGee, R-Brandon, resigned from the Mississippi House of Representatives Monday as part of a deal with the Mississippi Ethics Commission.

The Ethics Commission found in February that McGee had violated ethics laws after a printing company owned by his family had received almost $350,000 in state contracts while he was a House member. McGee no longer works at the printing company. McGee’s settlement with the Ethics Commission, which came more than a year after the case opened, included a $10,000 fine.

His old district, House District 59, is entirely within Rankin County. Gov. Phil Bryant will set a special election to fill McGee’s seat.

One name that emerged as a possible candidate Monday night is Bradley Lum. Lum is a partner in a new management firm, and a former teacher and coach at Brandon High School and Hinds Community College. He graduated from Ole Miss, where he played baseball.

Reached on his cell phone Tuesday morning, Lum would only say that he was considering a run.

Whoever wins would be in a reliably Republican district, and would hold what’s considered one of the safer seats in the Legislature. McGee first won election in 2007. He ran unopposed in 2011.

The Mississippi Business Journal first told you of The Ethics Commission’s investigation of McGee in October 2011. That story can be read here.

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MEDC director Hardwick announces retirement

November 16th, 2012 No comments

Mississippi Economic Development Council executive director Carol Hardwick told her membership in an email Wednesday night that she was retiring, effective March 1.

Hardwick plans to spend more time with her family and friends.

Hardwick said that MEDC’s board of directors will immediately begin a search for her replacement, with resumes being accepted through Nov. 30. Hardwick said she hopes her successor will be named as early as January 2013, so the new hire can be on board for the MEDC’s Winter Conference.

“As I reflect on MEDC’s significant accomplishments in the past 10 years, I am proud to have played a role in helping them come to fruition,” Hardwick wrote. “However, these accomplishments would not have been possible without the dedicated leadership of the Board of Directors, the committee chairs and the members of this great organization. I feel this group is providing the greatest service to our state by working with businesses to create jobs for our citizens and making their communities better places to live, work and raise our families.”

4KTurkey seeks donations for Jackson’s Stewpot

November 15th, 2012 No comments

A group of Fondren residents and business owners came up with an idea last year to serve as secret Santas at local retailers’ layaway counters.

They surprised folks picking up layaway items with cash to put toward whatever it was they were buying. The event took off on Twitter and Facebook, eventually catching the attention of Jackson television station WLBT.

This year, the same folks are using their generous energy to feed the homeless a Thanksgiving meal at Stewpot.

Dubbed 4KTurkey, the effort hopes to raise $4,000 between Thursday and Saturday to buy 30,000 pounds of food for Stewpot, a Jackson soup kitchen, to serve on Thanksgiving. The figures come from Stewpot, which estimates that it can buy 50 pounds of food for every $20 it raises.

Eddie Outlaw, co-owner of William Wallace Salon, said the idea for 4KTurkey started almost as soon as the secret Santa project ended.

“We were all googley and high on the Christmas spirit. We were talking about doing something for the Stewpot food drive. This kind of coincided with the 31st anniversary of the Stewpot Pantry Raid,” Outlaw said, referring to Stewpot’s annual food drive.

To contribute, cash and check donations can be dropped off at William Wallace Salon in Fondren on Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and on Saturday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m..

If you can’t make it there, donations are taken at Outlaw and others who organized 4KTurkey ask that you include the project’s official Twitter hashtag — #4KTurkey — in the comments section of the website’s donation box. “Stewpot is going to run a report for us every day that’ll let us know where we stand as far as reaching the goal,” Outlaw said.

“I think we have our own selfish reasons for doing this,” he continued. “We love to come up with a project like this and get in it knee-deep. We thought it was a great time to acknowledge that while most of us on Thanksgiving will be in a warm house, stuffing ourselves silly, there are people who will depend on Stewpot for a meal that day.”


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DRA unveils report tracking economic, social trends in the Delta

November 14th, 2012 No comments

The Delta Regional Authority released Wednesday Today’s Delta, a report that seeks to provide a snapshot of economic, health, social and education indicators for the region that includes parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri.

“This report gives us a tangible understanding of the perceptions that we have of the Delta region, which are compared to the realities that our communities and our people face,” said DRA federal co-chairman Chris Masingill.

The report surveys the education levels of Delta workers, follows population changes in the region, tracks poverty levels among families and seniors, measures personal income and charts health statistics like obesity and diabetes rates.

The entire document is 32 pages, but just more than half that contains actual data. The rest is cover letters, summaries and the like. It can be viewed here.

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Toyota to unveil new safety features in upcoming models

November 13th, 2012 No comments

Toyota has developed what the company calls a Pre-Collision System designed to help mitigate automobile collisions, even those that occur at high speeds.

The new system uses millimeter-wave radar that detects the risk of rear-end collisions with a preceding vehicle, the company said in a press release. The PCS warns the driver using sound and display alerts to hit the brakes once a risk is detected.

Once a driver depresses the brakes, the system kicks in with its own brake pressure that is twice what is normally applied. That enables vehicle deceleration up to four times faster than normal.

The PCS was developed for a wide range of Toyota’s vehicles, and will be launched in some of the company’s upcoming models. The company didn’t say whether the Corolla, which is made in Blue Springs, will be one.

Toyota has also started operations at its new Intelligent Transport System proving ground at its headquarters in Japan.

The nine-acre proving round simulates an urban environment, complete with replicated streets and traffic signals, and is equipped with a road-to-vehicle communications system that detects other vehicles and pedestrians.

The course, Toyota says, will speed up the company’s research and development of systems designed to improve fuel efficiency and allow for safer driving, especially in urban areas with heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

The proving ground R&D will also include next-generation cooperative systems between vehicles and infrastructure, similar to the communications systems in place that allow for interaction between cars and intersections with poor visibility.

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Entergy among companies awaiting U.S. Supreme Court ruling on foreign tax credits

November 12th, 2012 No comments

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in late October to consider whether three energy companies – including Entergy Corp. – are entitled to foreign tax credits after they each paid what the United Kingdom calls “windfall taxes.”

The issue arose out of a ruling from the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals against Pennsylvania-based PPL Corp., which owns a majority stake in a British electric utility that was included in a privatization of almost 30 U.K. companies that started in the late 1980s.

By the late 1990s, the public backlash over the perception that the companies had been sold for less than their worth led the U.K. government to impose a onetime windfall tax. PPL’s liability came out to $144.9 million. New Orleans-based Entergy’s tax bill resulted in the company claiming a $234 million credit here.

PPL and Entergy argued to the IRS that they were entitled to foreign income tax credits. The IRS rejected those claims, saying the windfall taxes the companies paid in the U.K. were based on their unrealized value, not profits, which could not be credited.

The 3rd Circuit upheld the IRS’ decision against PPL late last year. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, considering the same issue, ruled in June in Entergy’s favor.

The U.S. high court will likely issue a decision no later than June 2013.

Analysts have said that a decision in favor of the IRS will give that agency more authority to examine foreign tax credit claims, especially in cases where the law is vague.

“The issue is relevant to any international company,” Jerold Cohen, former IRS chief counsel, told Reuters. “The (Supreme) Court takes very few tax cases.”

Several groups, including the Cato Institute and the Goldwater Institute, have filed briefs supporting the companies.

Jackson State to unveil new logo, website Saturday

November 9th, 2012 No comments

Jackson State University will start the process of rebranding itself tomorrow during halftime of the Tigers’ game against Alabama A&M at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

The school will unveil its new logo, and launch its new website. Each is the result of a research campaign the school used a marketing firm to conduct the past several months. The firm surveyed JSU faculty, staff, alumni, current and prospective students in and outside of Mississippi to gauge their perception of the school.

“We want to ensure that the logo reflects the quality of the institution and that we are communicating with a unified voice through our branding,” JSU president Dr. Carolyn W. Meyers said in a press release. ”We believe the new brand reflects the university’s long history and tradition, as well as our commitment to learning, technology and innovation.”

Designed by AndiSites Inc., the new website will go live right after the game. It will be launched in phases. Over the next several months, the logo will appear on television, billboards, university buses and vehicles and signs in the Jackson area. Merchandise featuring the new logo will be available in JSU’s campus bookstore next semester.

The practice of rebranding at colleges and universities has been around almost as long as the institutions. For example, Mississippi State University was called Mississippi A&M, then Mississippi State College until 1932, when it became Mississippi State. A more modern example is Belhaven University in Jackson, which was named Belhaven College until just a few years ago.

“In an increasingly competitive environment, we want to position the university for the future,” Meyers said.

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