- Associated Press - Friday, August 21, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The state Supreme Court has been asked to halt an emergency rate increase that regulators granted to Mississippi Power Co.

In a motion filed Friday, Hattiesburg oilman Thomas Blanton argues the rate increase is an end-run around a Supreme Court ruling that lowered rates and ordered the company to make $350 million in refunds related to its construction of a power plant in Kemper County.

“Rather than follow its present course and grant a temporary rate increase, some of which will obviously be used to complete construction of Kemper IGCC, the commission should hold a prudency hearing and determine, based on the outcome of that hearing, what rate increases, if any, are appropriate,” Blanton’s attorney, Michael Adelman, wrote in the motion.

The Mississippi Public Service Commission has not responded.

The PSC voted 2-1 on Aug. 13 to allow the utility to raise rates starting with bills as of Aug. 20. A residential customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours per month of electricity would see monthly bills rise to $144 from $121, increasing as much as bills fell after a Supreme Court-mandated rate cut last month.

The company argued it was running out of cash, could no longer borrow on its own, and could not count on its parent - Atlanta-based Southern Co. - to bail it out.

Central District Commissioner Lynn Posey, a Union Church Republican, and Southern District Commissioner Steve Renfroe, a Moss Point independent, voted for the increase. It will cost Mississippi Power’s 186,000 customers $159 million a year.

Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley, a Nettleton Democrat, opposed the increase, consistent with his longtime opposition to the Kemper plant. However, Presley said he recognized the company is in financial difficulty.

The commission scheduled a Nov. 10 hearing to examine whether Mississippi Power spent more than $1 billion wisely on natural gas turbines and other the parts of its $6.2 billion Kemper County power plant already generating electricity.

The commission could make the increase permanent in December, or order the company to refund all or part of the money. Mississippi Power is posting a $50 million guarantee against possible refunds.

The rate increase won’t affect $350 million in refunds ordered by the Supreme Court after an earlier 18 percent rate increase was overturned. Customers will get bill credits unless they ask for a check.

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