Mississippi editorial roundup
Posted 4:37 p.m. Wednesday
Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Dispatch of Columbus on economic development in the state:
For too long, bringing economic development to our state has been a one-side negotiation.
It is no secret the Mississippi, among the poorest states with chronically high unemployment, has gone to the table with an unmistakable air of desperation -- a sign of weakness that companies are quick to note.
Too often, we find, the "whatever it takes" approach has produced jobs, but at a staggering cost. Each deal seems to bring bigger and bigger incentives through tax breaks that rob the state of much-needed revenue.
This hasn't been the case so far for a planned project by Southern Cross, which intends to file for permission from the Mississippi Public Service Commission to build a wind power transmission line across the state, part of a $1.3 billion project that starts in Texas and ends in Caledonia.
The company will spend $700 million of that project in Mississippi -- provided it gains approval of the PSC.
It is at this point the familiar script is turned on its head.
Unlike past agreements where the state has set few terms and made many concessions, the PSC is asking Southern Cross to agree to terms that produce real, long-term benefits to the state.
Northern District PSC board member Brandon Presley, who also serves as the PSC chair, has given the company conditions it must meet if it is to have the PSC's blessing.
First, the company must make every effort to recruit and employ Mississippi contractors for construction of the transmission line. If the company is unable to find Mississippi companies that can perform the needed work, it must provide the PSC with reasons why.
Second, the company must build their $300-million converter station in Mississippi. Presley says the company originally planned to build that station near Caledonia but briefly toyed with the idea of putting it just over the state line in Alabama. That station will provide more than 20 permanent jobs and presumably result in additional tax income.
Finally, upon completion, the company must agree to make 12.5 percent of the energy carried on their lines available to Mississippi utility companies. Doing so would diversify the utility companies' power options and act as a hedge against increases in the costs of conventional power such as natural gas or coal.
Presley, in an interview with The Dispatch Monday, noted that building a transmission line without allowing the state to reap some of the benefits is like building a railroad where the trains never stop in our towns.
Finally, although it is out of the PSC's control, Presley wants Southern Cross to pay its fair share of taxes. Too often, the state and counties have provided companies with tax breaks that relieve them of paying their full share of taxes for 10 to 20 years, depriving the state and counties of that revenue.
We like this approach. The concessions sought are fair to both Southern Cross and to the people of Mississippi.
There is always a "cost of doing business."
For too long, Mississippi has borne most of the costs while enjoying minimal benefits.
Admittedly, the specifics of this project gave the state some negotiating power we don't always have on development deals. That said, Presley's approach shows these deals can sometimes be worked in ways that are fair to both the business and to taxpayers.
The Picayune Item on an ongoing burn ban throughout much of the state:
As fall starts to fade into winter, much of Mississippi continues to maintain burn bans, including Pearl River County.
Over the weekend, county fire departments responded to several brush fires caused by the dry weather. Despite small patches of rainfall, it hasn't been enough to reduce the likelihood of fires.
It's important to remember that seemingly small actions could have a large and damaging effect. Even something as simple as throwing a lit cigarette onto a patch of dry grass could cause a massive fire.
Improper heating equipment is also a way house fires occur. Any type of fire can spread in moments, especially during a drought.
The burn ban was implemented to prohibit outdoor burning of any kind.
Even if you have an outdoor fireplace or pit, embers from those fires could cause a grass or woods fire and fines could be levied. Outdoor barbeques could also pose a serious threat. When planning holiday meals, make sure to take extra precautions.
When grilling, keep a hose or a bucket of water close by and keep a constant watch on the flames. One dropped coal on a pile of dry leaves or pine straw could start a fire and spread to other areas of the yard or home.
Cooking indoors could also pose a threat. A grease fire is a tricky battle to fight.
Cooking holiday meals usually includes greasy foods that can catch fire and can only be extinguished by smothering the flame or using the appropriate extinguisher.
Be sure to keep festive candles out of reach of children and far away from flammable decorations. Keeping your Christmas tree watered will help ensure it stays moist, reducing the risk of fire. Make sure lights wrapped around the tree don't get too hot, and the tree stands away from heat sources, electronics, fireplaces or candles.
Before lighting a flame, be sure to stop and think about any possible ways that it could spread.
The Enterprise-Journal of McComb on a new gasification plant in Mississippi:
Louisiana's Public Service Commission gave Entergy Louisiana approval last week to build a new power plant fueled by natural gas.
The plant will cost an estimated $869 million and generate 980 megawatts of electricity.
Compare those numbers to the "clean coal" fiasco supposedly nearing a very tardy completion in Mississippi's Kemper County.
Its price tag is now $7 billion — more than double the original estimate offered by its owner, Mississippi Power Co. — for 580 megawatts of power.
Do the math. New natural gas plant in Louisiana: $887,000 per megawatt.
New lignite gasification plant in Mississippi: $12 million per megawatt.
Or put another way: The Louisiana plant will produce 70 percent more electricity than Kemper and cost about 90 percent less to build.
Even if Entergy proves to be as far off in its original estimate as Mississippi Power was in its, that plant near New Orleans will still be a better deal by a factor of six.
It's not going to be off anywhere close to that far, though. Unlike the highly experimental lignite gasification, natural gas plants are proven technology, clean technology and cheap technology, relatively speaking. While Mississippi Power Co. a few years ago plunged ahead with building Kemper despite all the economic evidence against it, other nearby utilities were purchasing used natural gas plants for one-twentieth the cost of Kemper that produced 50 percent more power.
Any way you look at it, not just in hindsight but even as it was occurring, Kemper was a humongous mistake built on bad numbers, bad timetables and bad faith.
Thankfully, Mississippi's current Public Service Commission is not the same as the one that was bamboozled. Its three members are much more likely to stop the monopoly from sticking it to the ratepayers in the southeastern part of this state.
So far, Mississippi Power has been allowed to hike utility bills to cover $1.1 billion of its Kemper costs — basically what it took to build the natural gas-powered portion of the plant, which is already operational. Even that is a bit on the pricey side. Mississippi Power should not get a penny more from this poor state.