Kemper Co. power plant case goes to court - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Kemper Co. power plant case goes to court

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -

By Doug Walker - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The Kemper County power plant case was in court Monday. The Sierra Club has filed suit, saying when the state Public Service Commission voted to allow the $2.4 billion Mississippi Power plant to be built, after initially balking at the idea. They say commissioners ignored their own policy and the case should be sent back to the PSC for another look. 

The hearing lasted four hours, and was full of technical and legal talk. Each side tried to convince chancery judge Jim Persons the validity of their positions.

The question that has to be legally answered is this: Was the PSC's decision giving Mississippi Power the go-ahead to build the Kemper County plant arbitrary and without merit?

Sierra Club attorney Robert Wiygul says yes, partly because the power company has no competition, and natural gas is a better alternative.  

"Utilities like Mississippi Power Company supply electric power that each one of us have to have in our homes," Wiygul said.  "We don't have another place that we can go to use that transmission system."

Mississippi Power attorney Ben Stone touted the plant's virtues, for the company and rate payers, especially the use of newfound lignight coal.

"The reason why fuel diversity is so important is two basic reasons: cost and availability," Stone said.  "If you have, which Mississippi Power Company does, you have coal sources which you can burn and generate electricity and you have natural gas facilities."

But having customers pick up the $2.4 billion tab for construction brought some questions from Judge Jim Persons. 

"Even if a 45 percent increase is reasonable under the act, considering the need and cost, what if they can't afford it?" the judge asked.  "The commission didn't go that far." 

But the attorney for the PSC, Christopher Lomax, claimed the argument should be handled in another venue, because state law allows the cost of construction to be passed onto customers.  

"If the Sierra Club has an issue with that policy, they need to be in Jackson Mississippi, not down the road in Jackson County, not here in Harrison County," Lomax said. "They need to be talking to the folks at the capitol, not the courthouse."

But the courthouse is where this high stakes legal battle will be played out.

Judge Persons took the case under advisement, and said he would issue a ruling no later than two weeks from February 14, 2011.

Copyright 2011 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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