MICHAEL NEWSOM: Bentz’s replacement will be in a tough spot at PSC

Now that ol’ Leonard Bentz has been hired as director of the Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District, there’s a big vacancy on the Public Service Commission, but it may not turn out to be such a great job.

Bentz likely would have had a hard time getting re-elected to the PSC because of the controversial Mississippi Power coal gasification plant being built in Kemper County. He voted for the plant and its cost has ballooned from an estimated $2 billion to $4.7 billion. The ratepayers across South Mississippi will be on the hook for about $2.4 billion of that plus another $1 billion in bonds, which the Legislature gave the company the authority to acquire.

Bentz has said he deserves credit for the three-member PSC setting the cap at $2.4 billion and for requiring the company to eat about $1 billion in losses on it. But I’m not sure the voters would have appreciated that position very much in 2015. The nuances of the complex world of utility regulation will be lost on them, and, well, me too, once those higher power bills start rolling in.

Gov. Phil Bryant, who has supported the Kemper County plant, will appoint Bentz’s successor to the $78,000 per year job. Names of state legislators from South Mississippi have been circulating as possible replacements. They are Sen. Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula; Rep. Casey Eure, R-Biloxi; Rep. Scott DeLano, R-Biloxi; and Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, all of whom are close to Bryant.

Sun Herald