Negotiations extended over Kemper plant costs

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Mississippi utility regulators are allowing more time for negotiations over the final costs of the $7.5 billion-plus Kemper County energy facility.

Public Service Commission officials said Friday that they are pushing back to Sept. 5 their self-imposed deadline to take action. Friday had been their preferred deadline.

PSC Chairman Brandon Presley tweeted that he had hoped all parties would have agreed to a settlement on the plant by now.

“It is in the public interest that we give a little but more time to exhaust all options for a settlement, and hopefully we could get it,” he said. “Hopefully, there will be a settlement filed and we can put this behind us.”

Negotiations took an unexpected turn Monday when Mississippi Power laid out its game plan for resolving the commission’s issues with the plant, detailing what it believes should be the final costs and customer rates for the plant.

The plan was in response to the commission’s July 6 order calling on Mississippi Power to steer the Kemper plant away from its clean coal technology by only operating the plant as a natural gas facility, which the plant has done in part since 2014.

Mississippi Power’s proposal indicates it is not fighting that decision. Under the plan, the company, a unit of Atlanta-based Southern Company, also promises not to charge ratepayers for the costs of its problematic gasifier technology nor increase their rates per the commission’s order.

However, Mississippi Power wants to recover around $250 million more than the commission had in mind for operating the natural gas portion of the plant, also known as a combined cycle gas turbine plant.

“We just don’t have agreement of the parties,” Presley said. “While there’s a good bit of agreed upon things, there’s still issues outlying them.”

The Mississippi Public Utilities Staff, an entity separate from the Public Service Commission that provides investigative and advisory services to the commission, has recommended a lower price be recovered.

Mississippi Power has said in a statement that it is unclear if the company can continue the same level of service and community involvement if the settlement it filed is not approved by the Public Service Commission.

Other parties involved in the settlement include Denbury Resources Inc.; Central Mississippi Building and Construction Trades Council; East Mississippi Business Development Corporation; and Ministerial Alliance Partnership.