Steve Renfroe, a former lobbyist for Chevron Corporation, will take over as one of Mississippi's top public-utilities regulators.
Gov. Phil Bryant made the announcement this morning at a ceremony in Biloxi. Renfroe, who retired from Chevron in 2011, takes over as the Mississippi Public Service Commission's Southern District representative, replacing Leonard Bentz, who stepped down in August to become executive director of Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District.
Renfroe has longstanding relationships with key energy and government players, having worked in government affairs for 35 years, which includes his 2010 appointment by former Gov. Haley Barbour to serve on the state's BP oil-spill task force.
Renfroe's final lobbying report, filed Sept. 27, 2011, shows he dined with many of the state's leaders, including then-Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, then-state Senator and current Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and the state's former first lady, Marsha Barbour.
Renfroe joins the three-member PSC at a time when controversy continues to swarm around Mississippi Power Co.'s Kemper County IGCC power plant, which is nearing completion near DeKalb.
It is unclear where Renfroe stands on Kemper. His predecessor, Bentz, generally supported the project along with fellow Republican, Lynn Posey of the central district. Critics of the Kemper project, which includes environmentalists and the natural-gas industry, have said that Mississippi Power should have considered building a power plant that runs on abundant, relatively cheap natural gas instead of low-density lignite coal.
Renfroe's former employer, Chevron, is a major player in natural-gas development in the Gulf of Mexico, producing 321-million cubic feet of natural gas in 2012. Another issue on the table that the PSC could consider is a plan to make Mississippi a destination for the reprocessing and storage of spent nuclear fuel.
The state's Senate Economic Development Committee, chaired by Jackson Democrat John Horhn, met Aug. 27 to hear a presentation from the nonprofit Mississippi Energy Institute about the benefits of locating a short-term storage site for waste from nuclear-power plants and building a nuclear-fuel-reprocessing plant.
Jason Dean, a project consult with the MEI, said such a facility would cost about $25 million but that the project would create about 4,000 jobs and generate $30 million a year in tax revenue. He added that Mississippi taxpayers would likely not have to contribute financially because the federal government has a $25 billion fund intended for the development of nuclear-fuel storage units.
Brandon Presley, the northern district pubic-service commissioner, lambasted the nuclear proposal. In a letter to Mississippi newspapers, Presley called the plan "appalling."
"If this is such a great idea, why are we the only state in America asking for it? The truth is, this would kill tourism and jobs," Presley wrote.
Through a press statement, Renfroe vowed not to seek re-election when the PSC term expires in 2015. Renfroe's wife, Debby, is a kindergarten teacher. A Hattiesburg judge will perform Renfroe's swearing in early next week.