Miss. AG accuses Entergy of inflating prices

Published 1:52 pm Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Attorney General Jim Hood accused Entergy Mississippi on Monday of using what he called “shell corporations” to inflate electricity costs it passes along to consumers.

Mississippi’s attorney general has not filed a criminal or civil complaint, but made the allegation in Hinds County Chancery Court as part of a legal battle over Entergy’s records.

Hood claims Entergy Mississippi buys electricity from sister companies at a higher rate than it could be purchased from other utilities, and then passes the higher costs along to consumers.

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Hood said he can prove it with Entergy’s own documents — if he can get his hands on them.

The company is fighting Hood’s request for thousands of records that date back decades.

Haley Fisackerly, Entergy Mississippi chief, said Monday in a statement that Hood raises, “unfounded allegations, arbitrarily accusing the company of overcharging customers for 30 years.”

“He now seeks 30 years’ worth of information, much of which can be readily obtained through our authorized regulator, to try to justify those claims,” Fisackerly said.

Entergy Mississippi, a subsidiary of New Orleans-based Entergy Corp., provides electricity to more than 433,000 customers in 45 Mississippi counties. Like other utilities here, the company is regulated by the Mississippi Public Service Commission, which must approve rate changes, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Michael Wallace, an Entergy lawyer, argued Monday that Hood has no legal authority to force the company to comply with “civil investigative demands.” He said Hood should file a lawsuit and issue subpoenas if he wants to obtain the documents through court action.

“The main difference between demands and subpoenas in Mississippi is demands don’t exist,” Wallace told the court. “If he didn’t have the authority to issue a demand, we can’t be punished for not complying.”

Hinds County Chancellor Dewayne Thomas said he hoped to rule by the end of November on whether Entergy will have to turn over the documents.

Hood said after the hearing he’s confident he can wrest millions from Entergy on behalf of its Mississippi customers. “If they don’t have anything to hide, why don’t they produce the documents?” he asked.

Wallace would not comment, but argued in court that Entergy has always provided documents to the Public Service Commission, which he said has exclusive authority over the company.

He said Hood should not try to circumvent that authority. “Exclusive means exclusive: That’s our case,” Wallace said.