JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi Power Co. is telling regulators that the company wants bill credits to be the default option when refunding the $350 million the company collected from customers for its Kemper County power plant.
The unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co., in a Tuesday filing with the Mississippi Public Service Commission, said it only wants to issue checks when customers ask, although it acknowledged the three-member commission could order the company to issue checks to all customers who are due a refund.
"A default option is necessary to prevent a requirement that all 188,000 of MPC's customers contact the company prior to receiving a refund in any form," the company wrote in the filing.
The company cut rates 18 percent Monday after the state Supreme Court ruled in February that the 2013 increase for the $6.2 billion plant was illegal and ordered refunds.
Any rate decrease could be short-lived. Mississippi Power sought to increase rates after the court ruling, and the PSC has scheduled a hearing on the request at the same Aug. 6 meeting that commissioners intend to vote on the refund plan. The utility says it is short on cash and will have to obtain money for the refunds, probably from Southern Co.
Mississippi Power wrote that because of turnover in its customer base, as many as 300,000 current and former customers are due a refund.
The company estimates that a residential customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours per month of electricity and has been served since the rate increase began in April 2013 is owed about $650. Until Monday, that customer paid about $144 a month. However, average residential customers use more power, and thus would be owed more.
Mississippi Power said it needs 60 days after the commission approves its plan to calculate refunds and set up payment systems, which would mean bill credits or checks could begin sometime in October. The company said it wouldn't be able to answer questions from individual customers until then.
The utility said it would take seven to 10 days after a request to send out checks. The company said it would take longer if it's required to send a check to everyone and warned of the possibility that checks would be stolen or go unclaimed. Checks would be voided after 180 days. If the company doesn't find a former customer within five years, unclaimed money would be transferred to the state treasurer.
Because refunds are larger than the typical monthly bill, customers with credits might pay nothing for several months. The company said it also wants to allow a few large commercial and industrial customers to stretch out their refunds over many months to offset possible future increases. However, it wrote in the filing that it did not want to offer that choice to all customers because it would take too much time and cost too much money to reprogram computers.
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