JACKSON, Miss (AP) — The Mississippi Public Service Commission has reached a $300 million settlement with Entergy Mississippi, the state's largest electric utility.
Some of the settlement will be used for $80 bill credits or cash payments to Entergy’s 461,000 customers. The commission will also use the settlement to offset future fuel price increases caused by volatility in global energy markets.
The settlement is the largest ever reached by the state utility regulators and comes as Mississippians face rising fuel costs and inflation, commissioners announced at a Thursday news conference.
“This is literally unheard of in today’s global energy crisis — to reach a settlement of this size at a time when all of our constituents are facing economic uncertainty," said Brandon Presley, public service commissioner for the Northern District.
Without this $200 million, Entergy customers would have seen an over $15 a month increase beginning in January, according to a PSC news release. The $80 payments will come from a $35 million chunk of the settlement.
“The ability to get cash back in (customers') hands will be an economic stimulus for the state,” Presley said.
About 70% of Entergy's Mississippi's customers live in the PSC's Central District.
“This is going to be a timely settlement to help with rate reduction," said Brent Bailey, the central district commissioner. "As you’re working through the litigation process sometimes you wonder about a settlement, but I’m glad we took this action.”
The settlement stems from litigation the PSC initiated in 2017. Entergy’s return on investments from the Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station was inflated and led to over-profiting and customer rate increases, Presley said.
The settlement is the culmination of 13 proceedings before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Entergy will incur costs of $600,000 over the next four years for an annual audit of the Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station's accounting.
The Grand Gulf Nuclear Station was also at the center of a complaint filed by the Louisiana Public Service Commission, the New Orleans City Council and the Arkansas Public Service Commission. Those entities argued that $800 million Entergy spent to upgrade its Grand Gulf hadn't improved the plant’s safety record and performance compared to other nuclear power plants. The utility also overcharged customers more than $361 million, they said.
Entergy executives applauded the Mississippi commissioners for taking action.
“By resolving these issues, we can focus on the long-term future of Grand Gulf Nuclear Station," said Haley Fisackerly, Entergy Mississippi president and CEO, in a news release. “With natural gas prices having tripled over the last year, raising customer power bills as a result, the low-cost power we get from Grand Gulf is a financial lifeline to our customers right now.”
The Mississippi PSC said it will work with Entergy to disperse the payments, either through a check or an online portal where customers can receive bill credits. Presley expects the money will reach Entergy customers’ hands by the September billing cycle at the earliest.
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.