Brandon Presley talks Kemper, expanding rural Internet and utility jobs

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Kendra Ablaza/Mississippi Today

Brandon Presley, Northern District representative, Public Service Commission

Brandon Presley, chairman of the Public Service Commission, this afternoon talked about next steps for the Kemper County energy project and spelled out other utility-related legislative priorities he’d like to see take off in 2017.

Presley, who represents the commission’s Northern District, laid out the commission’s priorities at a luncheon for the Capitol press corps this afternoon.

Presley stressed that ratepayers should not be on the hook for Mississippi Power Co.’s missteps on its Kemper County power plant, now more than two years behind schedule and costing nearly $7 billion.

Though many in the audience asked about the project’s final price tag and the commission’s vote on whether ratepayers could and should foot part of bill for the overage, Presley said the commission cannot make any decisions until the plant is fully operational, which could occur as soon as January.

Even then, Presley said it could take more than 90 days to figure out if the plant is operating like Mississippi Power Co. first advertised when construction began in 2010. Presley was elected to the Public Service Commission in 2007 and voted against building the lignite coal-fueled power plant.

“There were promises made about the availability of the plant (and) operational costs within a certain parameter that is hard to see today how that is going to be met,” Presley said Monday. “Those were assurances made by the company and they have to prove those.”

He went on to say the company would have to answer, “not just will it, in fact, work, but will it work in the matter in which you said it would? Is it available at the cost you said it would be?”

Other priorities for the commission, Presley said, include expanding natural-gas infrastructure and high-speed internet access to more rural areas of the state as well as a proposed electricity transmission line that is expected to start at a wind farm in Garland, Texas and stretch 200 miles up through Mississippi, ending in Lowndes County.

Presley is also interested in getting more small Mississippi businesses into the spotlight. He announced on Monday his plans to create a program called “Hire Mississippi” that would encourage utility companies to hire local contractors for large-scale projects throughout the state. Meanwhile, the commission would grade those companies on how often they hire locally, Presley said.

Presley also said the commission would be reorganized in the near future to create a “rural services officer” that would focus on expanding high-speed internet and natural gas infrastructure to rural areas of Mississippi at no additional cost to ratepayers.

“Our job is to make sure (ratepayers) are protected,” Presley said. “I think you’ll be able to see next year real efforts shown by a commission that’s composed of both Democrats and Republicans working in a matter that’s good not just for one political party but the entire state.”