BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Cecil Brown spoke Thursday morning at the Neshoba County Fair. A portion of his remarks under the Founders Square pavilion focused on the Kemper County lignite plant roughly 30 miles from the fairgrounds.
"The Kemper story is not over," the commissioner said, "but one way or another it is nearing the end."
Brown used part of his speech to explain the latest developments between his agency and Mississippi Power regarding its $7.5 billion plant. Brown noted the power company has suspended further construction at the Kemper County facility until settlement talks between the public service commission and the company are concluded.
"We did not shut the plant down," Brown told those gathered at the fair. "Mississippi Power Company voluntarily suspended operations. We did not order a settlement. We asked our staff and Mississippi Power Company to work toward a settlement."
The central district commissioner and his two colleagues expect the settlement to include three provisions: they want to remove any risk from ratepayers with regard to what Brown called the experimental part of the plant; they expect no rate increase passed on to Mississippi Power customers; and they want only the natural gas section of the Kemper County plant to be operational.
The goal, Brown said, is for a settlement to be filed with the Public Service Commission by August 21.
"If they cannot reach one," said Brown, "Mississippi Power Company will be free to come back and argue that they should be able to continue to work on the plant and to ask for a rate increase of whatever amount they believe they are entitled to recover. While there is no guarantee that we would honor any portion of their request, they are free to make their case."
WLOX News Now reached out to representatives of Mississippi Power to get any reaction to Commissioner Brown's Neshoba County Fair remarks. The company referred us to comments it made June 28 when it suspended work on the lignite aspect of the plant.
At that time, a news release said Mississippi Power and its parent the Southern Company would fully participate in the settlement talks.
"We are committed to ensuring the ongoing focus and safety of employees while we consider the future of the project, including any possible actions that may be taken by the Commission," CEO Thomas Fanning said in that news release. "We believe this decision is in the best interests of our employees, customers, investors and all other stakeholders."