Energy policy group formed in Mississippi

Published 12:02 am Thursday, June 11, 2009

A new institute will work on an energy policy to promote long-term economic growth in Mississippi as the state pursues renewable power projects, Gov. Haley Barbour said Wednesday.

Barbour announced the creation of the Mississippi Energy Policy Institute at a news conference at the state Capitol.

The institute will include representatives from several companies, including Mississippi Power Co. and Chevron Corp., and from state universities and other industry groups.

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It will be part of Momentum Mississippi, a statewide public-private partnership formed in 2004 to foster economic development in the state. John Palmer, a former telecommunications executive and former U.S. ambassador to Portugal, will be the temporary head of the institute.

“I believe energy is one of the most important and powerful public policy issues that this country will deal with in the coming decade,” Barbour said. “It is hugely important issue for Mississippi.”

He noted that Mississippi, like other Southern states, is an energy producer.

There are more than 40 biomass-related renewable energy projects in the state and Mississippi has Grand Gulf, a 1,266-megawatt boiling water nuclear reactor near Port Gibson that became operational in 1985. It employs more than 700 people.

Barbour pointed to Mississippi Power’s planned $2.2 billion power plant in Kemper County and Chevron’s $800 million in upgrades to its Pascagoula facility as examples of the state’s potential to become a leading power producer.

“We’re beginning to have more jobs in Mississippi that are part of energy intensive operations in manufacturing,” Barbour said. “We have had over $20 billion of energy projects in some stage of preparation in Mississippi during my time as governor.”

A study released Wednesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that clean energy jobs grew by 9.1 percent compared with a national average of 3.7 percent from 1998 to 2007, the latest year available. In Mississippi, jobs in the renewable energy economy grew nearly seven times faster than overall jobs in the same nine-year period, the study said.

Between 1998 and 2007, the study said jobs in Mississippi’s renewable energy industry grew at a rate of 24.8 percent, while overall jobs in the state grew by just 3.6 percent.

With the institute’s formation, Palmer says the state can take advantage of “the major shift that’s happening in our federal government.”

“There is a big focus on energy and it makes it clear to me that we look at all of facets … of energy — clean coal, nuclear,” he said.

No state money will be used to fund the institute, Barbour said.

Palmer, a telecommunications industry pioneer who founded SkyTel and was its chairman from 1989 until 1999, said he took the new job because the governor asked him.

“I will be working to set board policy. Where it’s to be located, housed and funded,” Palmer said. “And hopefully by this fall hand it off.”