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August 2, 2013

PSC's Bentz says Kemper rate cap to stand

JACKSON — JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Southern District Public Service Commissioner Leonard Bentz says he won't vote to raise the $2.4 billion cap set by regulators for the Southern Co.'s Kemper County power plant despite new cost overruns.

Southern Co. said this week that shareholders will absorb $450 million in losses incurred from building the new coal-fired power plant in Mississippi, raising the total write-offs on the construction project to nearly $1 billion.

Bentz tells The Sun Herald (http://bit.ly/16k4hBN ) that he is glad the company wasn't trying to pass those new cost overruns on to ratepayers. He says he won't vote for any rate hike that would allow the company to recover more than $2.4 billion from ratepayers. The PSC had set a rate hike cap on the project when it was approved.

"That's great that the ratepayers are not having to pay for that," Bentz said Wednesday.

Project costs have stung the Southern Co. and its Mississippi Power subsidiary. Southern Co. earlier absorbed a $540 million pre-tax loss on the plant.

Opponents of the project have long criticized the company's use of coal and its costs.

Bentz said he doesn't regret voting for the approval of the overall Kemper plan, as he believes there was no better alternative to it. He said there are still some hearings to determine whether the costs were "prudent" on the project, which could take place early next year, and also determinations about future rate increases.

"The most important thing that worries me is there's a lot of misinformation put out there," Bentz said. "The readers of the media outlets in the state of Mississippi don't understand. When articles are written, they are just thinking they have to pay $5 billion, or $4 billion or $3.8 billion. I've been consistent since day 1. You can check the records. I expect them to build that plant for $2.4 billion."

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