New Poll Shows MS Power Customers Strongly Oppose Rate Hikes for Kemper County Coal Plant
JACKSON, MS - A new poll released today, conducted by Fondren Strategies on behalf of the Sierra Club, shows strong opposition among Mississippi Power customers towards rate hikes for the Kemper County Coal Plant. The poll also reveals that a majority of Mississippi Power customers believe the company and its shareholders should be responsible for the cost overruns at the plant, currently estimated at more than $350 million, and that Mississippi's Public Service Commissioners should deny all rate increases to pay for the Kemper plant before it begins operation.
"Mississippi Power wants to steamroll over hardworking families, raising rates for decades to come. This poll confirms that Mississippi families overwhelmingly oppose any rate hikes to pay for the Kemper plant, regardless of whether that figure is 33%, 45%, or 61%," said Louie Miller, State Director of the Mississippi Sierra Club. "Customers do not support the massive rate hikes to pay for this plant, if it ever begins operation, let alone paying for it in advance while it's under construction. Our Public Service Commissioners and Mississippi Power executives should take note: public opinion is strongly against customers bearing the burden of this massive boondoggle."
Fondren Strategies, based in Jackson, conducted the poll using live telephone operators from January 14 through 17 and only spoke to verified customers of Mississippi Power. Mississippi Power has claimed that when complete, the Kemper plant will raise customers' electric rates by approximately 33%; upon hearing this information, 65% of respondents said it made them less supportive of the plant. More than eight in ten respondents feel that any Public Service Commissioner who approves a rate increase to pay for the Kemper plant during construction would be sending a signal that he or she "cares more about big utility companies than families."
"The poll results are strong and consistent: voters strongly oppose the rate increases required to pay for the Kemper County Coal Plant. Moreover, the poll results show that the public is paying attention to the Public Service Commission's actions. More than half of respondents agreed that any Commissioner who votes to raise rates significantly cares more about big utilities than Mississippi families. The results were even stronger when we asked about rate increases to pay for the plant during construction," said Brad Chism, pollster with Fondren Strategies.
Mississippi Power previously requested a 15.7% rate increase for residential customers to pay for construction financing costs, which was denied by the Commission in a hearing on June 22, 2012, due to ongoing litigation. Mississippi Power appealed the Commission's decision, and the Mississippi Supreme Court was set to hear arguments about the case on Monday, January 28, 2013. In a surprise public hearing announced with only a few hours' notice, Mississippi Power and the Commission announced a settlement agreement on Thursday, January 24, which dropped Mississippi Power's appeal and will allow the company to ask again for "construction while in progress" (CWIP) funds in 2013. In the agreement, the Commission agreed to expedite the company's request, which would allow Mississippi Power to begin charging customers for the Kemper plant's construction costs before it begins operating.
"After the shenanigans we saw last week from Mississippi Power and the Public Service Commission, I'd bet that if we conducted this poll today, the numbers would be even stronger," added Miller, with Sierra Club. "If a last minute deal to all but guarantee pre-charging customers doesn't show that Commissioners Bentz and Posey care more about utilities than Mississippi families, I don't know what does."
Independent reports monitoring construction have revealed that the Kemper plant is months behind schedule and more than $350 million over budget. When asked, 76% of poll respondents believe that Mississippi Power and its shareholders should be responsible for these cost overruns, not the captive customer base.
The Mississippi Sierra Club has worked with numerous individuals and organizations to oppose the dirty, expensive, and unnecessary Kemper County Coal Plant since it was proposed in 2009.