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Analysis: Utility law fight could affect Entergy

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 18, 2014 at 4:22 pm •  Published: May 18, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi has another utility that would like, at least someday, to collect some money for a power plant it hasn't built yet.

Mississippi Power Co. has already raised rates for customers by 18 percent to collect their share of the $5.5 billion Kemper County plant. The unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co. would also like to raise rates by what it estimates would be an additional 4 percent to repay $1 billion in bonds to cover part of the overruns that Mississippi Power has incurred.

But Entergy Corp. has a request before the Mississippi Public Service Commission to approve $56.8 million it spent planning the possibility of an additional nuclear reactor at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station near Port Gibson. The Mississippi unit of New Orleans-based Entergy says it's deferring collections for now. If Entergy goes ahead with building the reactor, it wants the right to recoup the money in the future from its 440,000 customers in 45 counties on the western side of the state.

"We're not seeking to recover any money right now," said Entergy spokeswoman Mara Hartmann. "We want to keep our options open."

The request has been parked since late 2011 and is going nowhere fast. The state Public Service Commission was supposed to conduct a hearing by October 2012 to determine whether Entergy had spent the money prudently. But that hearing never happened. Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley, a Democrat, said the separate Public Utilities Staff, which advises the commission, is awaiting a study of the prudence of the spending.

Thomas Blanton, a Hattiesburg oilman and unsuccessful Public Service Commission candidate, is challenging the Baseload Act, a 2008 law allowing utilities to raise rates to pay for power plants they're building, instead of waiting until they start generating electricity. Blanton, who has aimed his lawsuit at Kemper, says collecting from customers before a power plant is turned on is unconstitutional for a number of reasons.

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