- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi Power Co. customers are lining up to choose how to get their Kemper-related refunds from the utility.

Monday was the first day for people to call the unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co. to choose to receive the refund by check. If customers don’t act by Oct. 30, they will automatically get a credit on their bill.

The state Supreme Court ordered Mississippi Power to refund about $377 million to its 186,000 customers - money the court found was part of an illegal rate increase between April 2013 and July 2015.

By 11 a.m. Monday, Mississippi Power reported that nearly 29,000 people had contacted the company. People seeking a refund can visit a company office, call 1-800-532-1502 or choose online at www.mississippipower.com/refund. The company said lines were long at its offices Monday morning, and counseled patience. At midafternoon Monday, the phone line was busy.

A residential customer who used 1,000 kilowatts per month for the entire 28-month period is expected to receive a refund of about $650.

Checks or bill credits will begin Nov. 9, and spokesman Jeff Shepard said the company aims to have all checks mailed out by Dec. 4. Bill credits will take longer to complete in most cases, because a typical residential credit is large enough to cover more than four months’ worth of bills.

For people who are no longer Mississippi Power customers, the utility will mail a check to their last known address. Former customers can also contact the company to update their address. If a check is returned as undeliverable, Mississippi Power will call the customer’s last known phone number. After six months, the company will hold the check in its unclaimed property unit. If it goes unclaimed for five years, it will be turned over to the Mississippi state treasurer.

Mississippi Power has said it’s borrowing the refund money from parent Southern Co.

After the company said it was strapped for cash, the Public Service Commission granted Mississippi Power an emergency 18 percent rate increase in August. That rate increase, the same size as the one the Supreme Court overturned, is meant to pay for equipment now generating electricity at the $6.3 billion plant.

Hattiesburg oilman Thomas Blanton, also the Democratic nominee for the Southern District seat on the Public Service Commission, is challenging the latter increase in court after fighting the initial one. Monday, Blanton filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court challenging the commissions’ ruling from last week that Central District Commissioner Lynn Posey, a Union Church Republican, can keep voting on matters related to Kemper rates.

Blanton argued that Posey shouldn’t be able to vote because in 2013 he took campaign contributions from 10 companies that Mississippi Power has paid to work on the plant. The commission ruled those contributions, contrary to Blanton’s claims, don’t mean the vendors were acting as agents for Mississippi Power.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy

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