PSC Commissioner Cecil Brown

Public Service Commissioner Cecil Brown raised concerns Tuesday with Mississippi Power’s latest delay in filing for a rate increase associated with the Kemper Power Plant.

On Monday, Mississippi Power notified the commission that it is requesting a continuation of current rates for the 11 months beginning Aug. 1. those rates were established 18 months ago and represent only a portion of the projected costs of the innovative plant.

Brown, who represents the commission’s central district, said that while he is happy the utility is not requesting a rate increase at this time, he is concerned about what the utility could propose in the near future.

“I’m concerned that they’re implying that they continue to incur additional large expenditures in the construction of the plant,” Brown said. “At some point, we’ve just got to figure out exactly where they stand and what they see going forward.”

The Kemper County energy facility, known as one of the most expensive power plants ever built, is estimated to cost about $7.5 billion.

The project has drawn national attention for promising to be the first coal plant of its kind and size to operate commercially in the U.S. Once complete, the plant would not only produce electricity, but also reduce carbon emissions compared to traditional coal technology by putting carbon dioxide into a nearby pipeline system. From there, oil companies can purchase the gas to inject into fallow oil fields to bring valuable crude to the surface.

In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday, the company said the cost of the project was rising an additional $186 million.

The Mississippi Public Service Commission will hold a special meeting on June 21 to discuss the utility’s latest filing. Staff said the commission plans to enter an executive session to discuss how to proceed with the filing with outside counsel, in-house counsel and consultants, officials said.

In its filing, Mississippi Power said continuing the current rates for 11 months will allow the utility to focus on paying off previously-approved costs related to the plant, which runs on natural gas. This includes in-service assets placed into service since 2014, including its transmission projects, wastewater and natural gas pipelines and then-estimated costs of the project’s combined cycle.

Mississippi Power said it expects the plant to be in full service running on lignite coal by the end of June. However, the utility has yet to meet its project deadline, most recently missing its planned May 31 deadline.

In preparation for the executive session, the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff will work with representatives from Mississippi Power Co. to find out what they intend to do going forward, Brown said.

In the meantime, Brown said he is concerned with the 11-month period the utility is requesting, because it seems to him that the utility may be asking for more time to work on the plant.

“The 11 months would seem to imply that they’re not expecting anything to happen for 11 months,” Brown said. “I don’t know if that’s the case, but they did notice in their filing that they believe there will be additional significant expenditures on the plant between now and then … They’re not saying they’re asking ratepayers to pay for it, but even that seems to be a bit of a problem.”

Mississippi Today reached out to Mississippi Power for comment. Mississippi Power spokesman Jeff Shepard referred to a recent statement saying the utility expects the facility to be in service by the end of June.

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