The Mississippi Public Service Commission will be getting $824,901 to better watchdog the power industry. This morning, District 1 Rep. Travis Childers announced the grant award from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, which the PSC applied for earlier this year. Childers said the money will create jobs, improve training, and increase energy efficiency.
"This recovery funding will help increase efficiency, make sure that we have affordable and reliable energy for the future, and put Mississippians back to work," Childers said in a statement.
PSC Commissioner Brandon Presley said the money will specifically go to fund three new electricity policy analysts who will aid the PSC in keeping tabs on the power industry, particularly the countless new applications from power companies resulting from the influx of ARRA funds. The new employees will also devise an unbiased assessment of the state's future power needs.
"The Public Service Commission will have to weigh in on all of those new applications and test whether or not they're actually in the public interest. But on top of that, they will also help us formulate a five-year needs assessment for the state," Presley told the Jackson Free Press. "We'll look at exactly where all our power is coming from (and) what kind of statewide demand we are going to need in the future to give us a forecast of where the electric power industry in Mississippi is going."
Power industry giants are already arguing for a massive expansion of power plants in the statesome to be funded by ratepayers prior to the plants' constructioneven though pre-existing, independently-owned merchant plants largely sit unused.
Commissioners fought hard for the addition of new personnel during the legislative session, complaining that the Public Utilities Staff (a sister agency to the PSC that reviews reports on fuel adjustments for the commissioners, among other functions) does not have the manpower to effectively scrutinize information contained in some reports.
Earlier this year, commissioners refused to sign off on an audit report prepared for the state Legislature by the Public Utilities Staff, saying the report did not analyze whether a power company bought the cheapest power availablean argument that fell in line with a 2008 lawsuit Mississippi Attorney General Hood launched against Entergy Mississippi.
"The key to all this is whether or not that $471 million fuel adjustment charge in the last year is the best price we got, but we can't conclude that because the procedure that's gone on here for years has not looked into that," Presley said in January.
Commissioners lobbied the state government to add seven new policy analysts during the regular legislative session. Under the proposal, power companies would have financed the positions through application fee increases. Republicans favoring the industry shot down the proposal, however, arguing that the fee increases would translate into intolerably higher electricity bills, despite PSC estimates of bill monthly increases of about 3 cents.
Presley said the three new electric-policy analysts will join two positions the Mississippi Legislature eventually set aside for the PSC during the last special session: "This $800,000 will be to hire three new people on top of what we already have budgetedthree new people, and two, so it's five additional people."