Geoff Pender:Kemper plant no political game changer

When, or maybe if, Mississippi Power fires up the burners at its Kemper County plant next spring, many state leaders will be watching with bated breath, and their anxiousness will be more about politics than power generation.

If it works as planned, and starts producing cheap and clean electricity from crappy old lignite, a lot of Republican state leaders, including Gov. Phil Bryant, will breathe sighs of relief. If it doesn’t work, is delayed long beyond May or ends up with even more cost overruns or power bill hikes, many Democratic leaders will scream “Republican-corporate boondoggle” to high heaven, along with their strange bedfellows, tea partiers and some ultra conservatives.

I’ve talked recently with several Democratic political operative types, and they still see the Kemper plant as a potential game changer for Mississippi politics. They figure people and businesses in the lower third of the state will be so mad with large power bill hikes that voters will start looking for the goats. They believe a turn-the-bums out movement would center on Republicans and could help them regain a state House majority, and might even help on the gubernatorial level. The issue has made Democratic Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley — who’s questioned the project and championed for the poor old power customers — a rising star in state politics.

Geoff Pender