September 9, 2017 10:04:48 PM
JACKSON -- Regulators and Mississippi Power Co. on Friday again failed to agree on how much money customers should pay for a power plant.
The impasse remained after the unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co. rejected a fresh offer from the Public Utilities Staff on rates for the Kemper County power plant.
In August, the staff and Mississippi Power differed by $250 million or more on how much in assets customers should pay for Kemper. The commission ordered them to continue negotiations.
Staff Executive Director Virden Jones said Friday that staff, in conjunction with some other interested parties he declined to name, made another offer, but the utility rejected it.
Public Service Commissioner Cecil Brown said that offer would have allowed Mississippi Power to collect roughly an additional $110 million in assets.
"From the staff point of view, they conceded some the difference that they were apart, but the company wasn't interested in that," said Brown, a Democrat representing the Central District
Jones declined to confirm that number, and the company declined to comment altogether. Its previous position has been that its offer, filed along with some other groups, meets directives the commission set out in June. They include demands that Kemper should run on natural gas rather than gasified lignite coal, that rates should stay level or fall, and that customers shouldn't pay for the part of the plant that was supposed to gasify coal and remove pollutants.
The staff, independent of the commissioners, has said it believes that some costs that Mississippi Power wants to recoup are unjustified.
Southern has already absorbed almost $6 billion in losses on the $7.5 billion plant, after suspending efforts to complete the gasifier. The commission allowed the company to raise rates by 15 percent in 2015 to recover $800-million-plus for part of the plant that has been burning natural gas since 2014. But that leaves hundreds of millions on the table to be resolved in a settlement. Even under the company's August proposal, it said it would lose another $100 million to $200 million.
Brown and Commission Chairman Brandon Presley said they're likely to discuss the situation in closed session Tuesday and then order further proceedings. Both Brown and Presley say they want Mississippi Power, the staff, and others who have intervened in the case to detail their current positions.
"Our next step is to dig into why there's no agreement," said Presley, a Democrat representing the Northern District. He said he was "very disappointed" that the parties could not agree.
The company argues that it needs enough money to try to begin rebuilding its financial strength and persuading credit rating agencies that it can pay its bills. An increasing number of local governments and business groups have intervened in the case to support Mississippi Power. It's unclear though, if that political pressure will have any effect on the commissioners.
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