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Nearly two months since the Mississippi Public Service Commission approved an agreement that closes the books on the $7.5 billion Kemper County energy facility, commissioner Sam Britton said it is time to reflect on how state officials, the press and the public can collaborate to make sure a similar situation does not happen again.
The plant, known as the most expensive public utility project in the history of the state, had been the focal point of Britton’s term since he was elected in 2015, he said.
Britton, who represents the commission’s Southern District and is the commission’s only Republican, said at a Capitol press corps luncheon Monday that the plant was an emotional and intense issue for his district, especially along the Gulf Coast.
Most people seemed reasonably satisfied with the commission’s Feb. 6 approval of a settlement that relieved customers of paying for the project’s multibillion coal gasification technology, Britton said.
Yet, it wasn’t until March 8 that Britton knew his days dealing with the Kemper plant were really over.
“That is 30 days after our vote, which means that was the last day to file an appeal and nobody filed an appeal,” Britton said.
Long-time critic of the plant Thomas Blanton, a Hattiesburg oil businessman who was the plaintiff in the state Supreme Court case that ordered Mississippi Power in 2015 to send refunds to its customers, came close to filing an appeal with the Mississippi Supreme Court regarding the commission’s Feb. 6 order, but ultimately decided against it.
Rather than keep their scope on the Kemper project, Britton encouraged the public to take a step back and consider how state officials and businesses can improve how they plan to execute these large-scale projects in the future based on what we know about Kemper.
He brought up a number of other economic development projects that did not come to fruition as projected, such as the Mississippi Beef Processors plant, which ended up being a boondoggle on many accounts, and issues at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station, the first and only plant of its type in the state near Port Gibson.
“We probably need to go through a process and ask some questions: What worked? What did not work? How to make improvements in the system for next time?” Britton said.
While Britton said he does not have specifics prepared at the moment, he thinks the review process for large-scale projects in the state should be tweaked.
“For the remainder of my term, I’m going to spend some time looking at that and trying to figure out how we can improve the process,” Britton said.
Meanwhile, he said there were parts of the current system that did work to solve the Kemper plant’s issues, such as members of the public and media who kept the case in the public eye long enough and would not let the issue die or get swept under the rug, Britton said.
“When you get right down to it, the system did work,” he said of the settlement. “ … Maybe we might want the system to work for 14 years.”