- Associated Press - Friday, May 5, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi regulators want utilities to do more to hire companies based in the state, proposing an administrative rule that would require regulated private utilities to keep lists of interested companies and notify them of contracting opportunities.

The Public Service Commission voted 3-0 Thursday to seek public comment on the “Hire Mississippi” rule. Though it would encourage utilities to consider Mississippi firms, it would not require them to set aside any work for in-state companies.

Public Service Commission Chairman Brandon Presley, a Democrat representing the state’s northern district, says he believes more Mississippi companies could provide services, if they were aware of opportunities.

“It just makes me sick seeing trucks with Oklahoma tags trimming trees in Mississippi,” Presley said. “There’s a lot of companies in Mississippi that can trim trees and clear rights of way.”

The rule would apply to electrical utilities Entergy Corp. and Mississippi Power Co., private natural gas providers including Atmos Energy Corp. and CenterPoint Energy, and a number of small telephone companies. Companies would have to send out notice of every contract worth more than $200,000 to their list, advertise opportunities in newspapers and issue lists of possible subcontractors when they award large contracts. In-state companies who unsuccessfully bid on a contract would get at least a general explanation of why their bid was rejected.

Presley said he didn’t know of any other utility regulatory body with such a rule.

Entergy Corp. and Mississippi Power both said they support the plan, which commissioners discussed in an earlier work session and then modified.

“We currently do a lot in this area,” wrote Mara Hartmann, a spokeswoman for New Orleans-based Entergy, in an email. “We maintain a list of available vendors, do quite a lot of outreach, publish notices, etc. to reach Mississippi vendors, and we’re looking forward to working with the commission on expanding our effort and identifying new ways to reach these local resources.”

Mississippi Power spokesman Jeff Shepard said the subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Co. has used more than 570 Mississippi companies during the construction of its $7 billion-plus power plant in Kemper County.

Presley said the commission would issue an economic impact report as part of the rule-making process. The commission must vote again on the rule after taking comments.

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