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Political cheerleading heard at public hearing

Actual concerns voiced centered on costs, ecological impact and reliability of new technology

Comments at the Public Service Commission’s Oct. 9 public forum on the proposed Kemper County clean coal plant were supposed to focus on clarifying the need for the plant. Instead, the two-hour meeting at the Woolfolk State Office Building in Jackson served mainly as a political cheerleading session for economic development in a county with more than 10 percent unemployment.

Those who actually talked about the plant voiced concerns about the cost to consumers, the ecological impact on hunting and fishing industry, pollution, reliability of the new technology and a fear of job cuts at the nearby Jack Watson plant.

Except for a couple citizens who said Mississippi’s existing power plants were enough to power the state, no one discussed the math on the need for an additional energy source.

Those technical discussions took place earlier in the week. Southern District Public Service Commissioner Leonard Bentz said the PSC, outside consultant Boston Pacific and the Public Utilities Staff and their economists researched the need issue.

“We will not approve the plant based on the creation of jobs,” Bentz said after the hearing. The PSC is in the business of regulating utilities, not creating jobs, he said.

Bentz said a concern is that natural gas is cheap now but its price fluctuates frequently. The PSC wants to plan for an energy source that will have a consistent price 10 years into the future. The PSC is also considering wind, solar and other energy technologies.

U.S. Representative Gregg Harper represents the 3rd District that includes Kemper County. He supports the plant despite the lack of agreed-upon hard numbers supporting a new energy need. Although the amount is not known, there will definitely be an increased demand for energy, Harper said in an interview. The plant will be environmentally friendly and eventually result in great savings for rate payers, he said.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, president of the Mississippi Economic Council Blake Wilson, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority Gray Swoope, Mayor Will Hill of Louisville, executive director of the Winston County Economic Development District Partnership Gerald Mills, president of the Gulf Coast Business Council Brian Sanderson and representatives of the Kemper County Board of Supervisors and Kemper County Economic Development Board were some of the political and economic figures who spoke at the hearing in favor of the plant as an economic booster.

The PSC will vote in November about whether to continue the hearings on the power plant in February. The possible February hearings would be followed by a vote in May on whether to allow plant construction.

By AMY McCullough I STAFF WRITER

amy.mccullough@msbusiness.com

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