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CENTRAL DISTRICT PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSIONER CECIL BROWN

REMARKS AT THE NESHOBA COUNTY FAIR
JULY 27, 2017

GOOD MORNING EARLY BIRDS. THANKS FOR BEING HERE.
IT’S AN HONOR TO BE HERE TO TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT WE HAVE BEEN DOING AT THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION. IN SPITE OF A 30% BUDGET CUT IMPOSED BY THE LEGISLATURE AND THE LOSS OF VALUABLE EMPLOYEES, WE HAVE BEEN VERY BUSY.
NOW WHEN I SAY “WE,” I MEAN MY GREAT CO-WORKERS AT THE COMMISSION AND ME.
WE REPRESENT THE CENTRAL DISTRICT – 22 COUNTIES INCLUDING NESHOBA – ABOUT 900,000 PEOPLE.
IN OUR FIRST 12 MONTHS MY GREAT STAFF AND I HAVE BEEN TRAVELING AND MEETING WITH THE PEOPLE ACROSS THE DISTRICT TO TELL THEM WHAT WE DO AND HOW WE MIGHT BE ABLE TO HELP THEM WITH THEIR UTILITY BILLS AND SERVICE.
LAST YEAR, IN 2016, WE ATTENDED 207 DIFFERENT EVENTS – CHURCH MEETINGS, CIVIC CLUBS, FESTIVALS, TRIADS – EVENTS OF ALL KINDS.
SO FAR THIS YEAR WE HAVE ATTENDED 82 EVENTS WITH 5 MORE MONTHS TO GO. AND, WE ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO MEET OUR CONSTITUENTS. IF YOU WOULD LIKE US TO COME TO A MEETING IN YOUR AREA, JUST LET US KNOW.
PROBABLY THE BIGGEST NEWS FROM THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION THIS YEAR IS ABOUT THE KEMPER POWER PLANT – ALMOST YOUR NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOR.
THE PLANT STARTED OUT WITH PROJECTED COSTS OF $2.4BB. THE MOST RECENT COST ESTIMATE WAS $7.5BB. A PORTION OF THE PLANT HAS BEEN PRODUCING ELECTRICITY FOR A COUPLE OF YEARS USING NATURAL GAS, AND IN 2015 THE PRIOR PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION GAVE THE PLANT’S OWNER, MISSISSIPPI POWER COMPANY, A RATE INCREASE OF 15% TO PAY FOR THE NATURAL GAS OPERATION. THE REST OF THE PLANT, THE MOST EXPENSIVE PART, THE PART THAT IS SUPPOSED TO TURN LIGNITE COAL INTO GAS TO RUN THE PLANT HAS BEEN UNDER CONSTRUCTION SINCE 2010, AND IS STILL NOT FINISHED. LAST MONTH THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION ADOPTED AN ORDER ENCOURAGING A SETTLEMENT WITH MISSISSIPPI POWER COMPANY TO RESOLVE SOME OR ALL MATTERS IN QUESTION. THE COMMISSION BELIEVES ANY SETTLEMENT PRESENTED TO THE COMMISSION SHOULD INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING PROVISIONS:

•​REMOVE RISK FROM RATEPAYERS FOR THE EXPERIMENTAL PART OF THE PLANT;
•​NO RATE INCREASE TO MISSISSIPPI POWER COMPANY CUSTOMERS, WITH POTENTIAL RATE REDUCTION, PARTICULARLY FOR RESIDENTIAL CUSTOMERS
•​ALLOW ONLY FOR OPERATION OF A NATURAL GAS FACILITY AT THE KEMPER PROJECT LOCATION.
ANY SETTLEMENT SHALL BE FILED WITH THE COMMISSION BY AUGUST 21ST.
AS A RESULT OF OUR ORDER, MISSISSIPPI POWER COMPANY HAS DECIDED TO SUSPEND ANY FURTHER WORK ON THE PLANT PENDING OUTCOME OF THE SETTLEMENT TALKS. IF THERE IS NO SETTLEMENT, WE HAVE AGREED TO REVISIT THE MATTER IN EARLY NOVEMBER. IN THE MEANTIME, THE NATURAL GAS PORTION OF THE PLANT WILL CONTINUE TO PRODUCE ELECTRICITY FOR MISSISSIPPI POWER COMPANY CUSTOMERS.
THERE HAS BEEN SOME MISUNDERSTANDING IN SOME OF THE PRESS ABOUT WHAT THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION ORDERED. WE DID NOT SHUT THE PLANT DOWN. MISSISSIPPI POWER COMPANY VOLUNTARILY SUSPENDED OPERATIONS. WE DID NOT ORDER A SETTLEMENT. WE ASKED OUR STAFF AND MISSISSIPPI POWER COMPANY TO WORK TOWARD A SETTLEMENT. IF THEY CANNOT REACH ONE, MISSISSIPPI POWER COMPANY WILL BE FREE TO COME BACK AND ARGUE THAT THEY SHOULD BE ABLE TO CONTINUE TO WORK ON THE PLANT AND TO ASK FOR A RATE INCREASE OF WHATEVER AMOUNT THEY BELIEVE THEY ARE ENTITLED TO RECOVER. WHILE THERE IS NO GUARANTEE THAT WE WOULD HONOR ANY PORTION OF THEIR REQUEST, THEY ARE FREE TO MAKE THEIR CASE. THE POINT IS, THE KEMPER STORY IS NOT OVER, BUT ONE WAY OR ANOTHER IT IS NEARING THE END.
WHILE THE KEMPER PLANT IS IMPORTANT, WE’VE ALSO BEEN BUSY WITH OTHER ISSUES.
IN THE CENTRAL DISTRICT WE HAVE BEEN WORKING HARD TO BE SURE THAT ALL OF OUR 88 CITIES AND TOWNS ARE IN COMPLIANCE WITH STATE LAW REGARDING RATES AND SERVICE FOR THEIR MUNICIPAL UTILITY SERVICES. WE ARE FINDING THAT ABOUT HALF OF THEM ARE NOT FOLLOWING THE LAW, SO WE ARE WORKING TO HELP THEM GET BACK INTO COMPLIANCE. IT’S BEEN A BIG PROJECT, BUT AT THE RATE OF 20+ TOWNS A YEAR, WE WILL COMPLETE IT BY THE END OF THIS 4 YEAR TERM.
ONE OF THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION MANDATES UNDER MISSISSIPPI LAW IS “TO FOSTER, ENCOURAGE, ENABLE AND FACILITATE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI.”
IN THAT REGARD UNDER COMMISSIONER BRANDON PRESLEY’S LEADERSHIP, THE COMMISSION HAS ADOPTED A NEW MISSISSIPPI HIRE RULE TO ENCOURAGE MISSISSIPPI UTILITIES TO HIRE MISSISSIPPI CONTRACTORS FOR ALL OR A PORTION OF THEIR WORK. THESE COMPANIES SPEND MILLIONS OF DOLLARS A YEAR ON GOODS AND SERVICES. THOSE COSTS ARE PAID FOR BY MISSISSIPPIANS THROUGH THEIR UTILITY BILLS, AND WE WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT FOLKS IN MISSISSIPPI HAVE A CHANCE TO EARN SOME OF THEIR MONEY BACK THROUGH THESE CONTRACTS. WE WILL NOT REQUIRE THAT UTILITIES HIRE MISSISSIPPI COMPANIES, BUT WE WILL REQUIRE THAT STATE-OWNED AND OPERATED BUSINESSES RECEIVE DIRECT NOTICE FROM UTILITY COMPANIES OF ANY PROJECTS UP FOR BID.
THE RULE WOULD ALSO REQUIRE UTILITIES TO ADVERTISE IN LOCAL NEWSPAPERS OF ANY UPCOMING BIDS ON A QUARTERLY BASIS.
IN ADDITION, WE WILL HAVE A WEBSITE THAT WILL ALLOW MISSISSIPPI BUSINESSES TO ACCESS THAT INFORMATION.
IN THE CENTRAL DISTRICT WE HAVE BEEN VERY BUSY WORKING ON ANOTHER ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND JOB PLAN – A UTILITY CAREER INITIATIVE WITH A GOAL OF MAKING FOLKS WHO ARE LOOKING FOR A JOB AWARE OF CAREER OPPORTUNITIES IN MISSISSIPPI’S STABLE AND INNOVATIVE UTILITY INDUSTRY. OUR VISION FOR THIS NEW INITIATIVE FOCUSES ON MISSISSIPPI’S HIGH SCHOOLS AND FOUR-YEAR AND TWO-YEAR INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION.

THIS NEW INITIATIVE IS AN EFFORT TO DEVELOP A STRONG AND LASTING PARTNERSHIP AMONG COLLEGES/UNIVERSITIES, STATE AGENCIES, PUBLIC UTILITIES, AND LAWMAKERS.
WE BELIEVE THAT LETTING ALL STAKEHOLDERS KNOW ABOUT OUR EFFORTS WILL ALLOW EVERYONE TO COME TOGETHER TO ENSURE THAT OUR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS, COLLEGE STUDENTS, AND GRADUATES ARE AWARE OF THE GREAT OPPORTUNITIES THAT EXIST IN MISSISSIPPI.

SPEAKING OF OPPORTUNITIES, THE MISSISSIPPI ENERGY INSTITUTE HAS FOUND THAT THE AVERAGE ANNUAL SALARY FOR A UTILITY LINEMAN IN MISSISSIPPI IS $55,000. AND IN ADDITION TO THE TECHNICAL AND FIELD POSITIONS, UTILITY COMPANIES HAVE OPPORTUNITIES FOR LAWYERS, ACCOUNTANTS, HUMAN RESOURCE PERSONNEL AND OTHERS WHO SPECIALIZE IN THE UTILITY INDUSTRY – AN INDUSTRY THAT IS UNIQUE FROM ANY OTHER.

THE DEMANDS FOR THESE SPECIALIZED JOBS ARE GROWING AT A RAPID RATE IN MISSISSIPPI. AS AN EXAMPLE, ENTERGY MISSISSIPPI HAS EXPRESSED A NEED TO HIRE OVER 1,000 NEW EMPLOYEES OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS. THIS ANNOUNCEMENT IS HUGE FOR MISSISSIPPIANS. ENTERGY’S SERVICE TERRITORY COVERS 45 OF MISSISSIPPI’S 82 COUNTIES; AS A RESULT, THEIR NEW EMPLOYEES WILL BE ABLE TO LIVE ALMOST ANYWHERE ACROSS THE STATE.

AT THE SAME TIME, RENEWABLE ENERGY AND BROADBAND TECHNOLOGY ARE GROWING IN OUR STATE. TRAINED ENGINEERS AND INSTALLERS WHO ARE PREPARED TO WORK ON SOLAR FARMS IN MISSISSIPPI AND BROADBAND EXPANSION WILL BE ABLE TO FIND EMPLOYMENT IN THESE GROWING UTILITY SECTORS. TVA, TELEPHONE AND CABLE COMPANIES, WATER ASSOCIATIONS, GAS COMPANIES, ELECTRIC POWER ASSOCIATIONS AND MUNICIPAL UTILITIES ARE HIRING AS WELL.

OVER THE NEXT FEW MONTHS, WE WILL CONTINUE TO MEET WITH ALL UNIVERSITY AND COMMUNITY COLLEGE PRESIDENTS AND REPRESENTATIVES FROM UTILITY COMPANIES. WE ARE STRESSING THE IMPORTANCE OF PREPARING STUDENTS FOR THE WORKFORCE AND RETAINING OUR GRADUATES IN THE STATE BY MAKING THEM AWARE OF JOBS IN THE UTILITY INDUSTRY.

FOR THE MOST PART, UTILITIES OFFER GOOD COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS, STABILITY AND CAREER PATHS. IN ADDITION, THERE ARE UTILITY COMPANIES OF EVERY KIND THROUGHOUT THE STATE. AS A RESULT, MISSISSIPPIANS WHO WANT TO STAY CLOSE TO HOME HAVE A GOOD CHANCE OF BUILDING A CAREER WITH A UTILITY NEAR THEIR HOME BASE.

WE BELIEVE THAT BY WORKING, PLANNING AND BRINGING AWARENESS OF THESE OPPPORTUNITIES THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION AND MEMBERS OF MISSISSIPPI’S UTILITY INDUSTRY CAN CREATE A PIPELINE TO EMPLOYMENT IN THIS STABLE INDUSTRY.

YOU FOLKS CAN HELP. ASK YOUR STUDENTS AND EDUCATORS TO CONTACT OUR OFFICE IF THEY ARE INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE ABOUT OUR UTILITY CAREER INITIATIVE. OR LOOK ON OUR WEB SITE FOR A LINK TO JOBS OPPORTUNITIES AND INTERNSHIPS THAT ARE AVAILABLE AT VARIOUS UTILITIES.
WHEN MY STAFF AND I BEGAN OUR WORK AT THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION IN JANUARY, 2016, WE AGREED THAT OUR GOAL WOULD BE TO MAKE THE CENTRAL DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE WHEN WE LEAVE THAN IT WAS WHEN WE STARTED. AND WE ARE WELL ON OUR WAY TO DOING THAT.
WE WORK EVERY DAY TO MAKE SURE THAT THE INITIATIVES WE HAVE STARTED BECOME A PERMANENT PART OF THE WORK OF THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION.
WE’VE WORKED HARD TO BE SURE LOCAL OFFICIALS ARE COMPLYING WITH STATE UTILITY LAWS. WE ARE ENCOURAGING MISSISSIPPI UTILITIES TO HIRE MISSISSIPPI CONTRACTORS FOR AS MUCH OF THEIR WORK AS POSSIBLE. WE ARE BRINGING MISSISSIPPI STUDENTS TOGETHER WITH MISSISSIPPI UTILITIES SO THAT ALL OUR STUDENTS ARE AWARE OF THE WONDERFUL CAREER OPPORTUNITIES IN THE UTILITY INDUSTRY – THESE INITIATIVES HELP OUR STATE, AND THEY SHOULD CONTINUE.
THE NEXT GENERAL ELECTION IS IN 2019. If YOU WILL STICK WITH US FOR 4 MORE YEARS WE’LL MAKE SURE THESE PROGRAMS ARE PERMANENT.
I AM PROUD OF OUR STAFF. I AM HONORED TO BE YOUR PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSIONER. AND I AM ASKING YOU TODAY FOR 4 MORE YEARS.
THANKS FOR LISTENING. ENJOY THE FAIR.


7/27/17

Posted July 27, 2017 - 11:15 am

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