New group to promote energy projects in Miss.

Published 11:50 pm Saturday, June 6, 2009

Former Tennessee Valley Authority Chairman Glenn McCullough Jr. is heading up a new nonprofit group that he says will search out promising green energy projects in Mississippi and help them navigate bureaucratic red tape.

McCullough said the key to avoiding bureaucracy and needless debate is to educate state leaders and the public on “sound, sensible energy policy.”

The group of energy, business, community and academic leaders announced the formation of Advance Mississippi this week. McCullough, a former Tupelo mayor who headed TVA for six years, will serve as its chairman.

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“Energy is a complex and a broad topic. We want to boil this down in public forums where we will have not only policymakers and business and industry leaders, but the general public,” McCullough said. “They can learn about how these new technologies are safer. They are lower cost and more reliable and they have zero harmful emissions.”

Among members of the coalition are former Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Nielsen Cochran and members of the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi and the TVA.

“Our focus will be on issues education … about the challenges we face from an energy standpoint, including the need for base load power and a diversified state energy portfolio,” Cochran said in a statement.

One pending energy project is Mississippi Power Co.’s proposed 582-megawatt integrated gasification combined cycle plant for Kemper County. It would convert locally mined lignite, or “brown coal,” into a gas to generate lower-emission electricity.

Last month, Mississippi Power gave state regulators more details on the need for the planned $2.2 billion power plant that it says will create 260 new permanent jobs.

Mississippi Power, which is part of the Southern Company that includes Alabama Power, Georgia Power and Gulf Power, called for quick approval for the project to avoid placing federal incentives in jeopardy.

The company has received a $270 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and a $133 million in investment tax credits under the National Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Entegra Power Group and Magnolia Energy, two independent power producers, and the Sierra Club have challenged the need for the new power plant.

McCullough contends projects like Mississippi Power’s should pass regulatory muster and are necessary because the state’s electricity consumption exceeds the national average and has for the last 20 years.

“Let’s be businesslike about it,” he said. “The state needs more energy. There’s a process you go through to get the permits. Mississippi Power and all utilities … ought to play by those rules, but let’s not delay bringing energy online.”

A first report from McCullough’s group contends Mississippi has a “wealth of natural energy resources, existing clean and reliable sources of generation, robust natural gas pipelines, and two deep water ports that can facilitate the efficient distribution and use of energy.”

That, the report says, puts more responsibility on the state’s leaders to pursue “smart, effective energy policies.”

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