Make them join MISO

Forty-six million dollars a year is a lot to save just by flipping a switch. That’s how much money ratepayers are saving each year in electric bills because Jackson-based Cooperative Energy has joined MISO.

Cooperative Energy is a network of 12 Mississippi electric cooperatives serving 423,000 ratepayers in 55 counties. Its old name was South Mississippi Electric Cooperative. MISO stands for Midcontinent Independent System Operator. It is one of eight large U.S. electricity grid cooperatives.

Since Cooperative Energy has joined MISO, Cooperative can buy the lowest cost electricity from hundreds of different MISO-affiliated power plants within the grid. In turn, Cooperative can sell electricity from its plants into the grid. This creates a free market for electricity and lowers costs. Because of MISO, Mississippi homes are actually being powered by wind and solar energy, which constitute 13 percent of the MISO electricity generation. Another 11 percent is nuclear and other renewables. The rest is fossil fuels, most of that natural gas, then coal.

Entergy, another large Mississippi utility company, is also a part of MISO, saving hundreds of millions of dollars as well. This is money that goes straight into the pockets of ratepayers, improving the economic health of our state.

One of the absurdities of the Kemper power plant was that no plant was needed in the first place. If Mississippi Power had joined MISO, it could have bought electricity at the lowest cost from all over the United States. Now that Kemper has flopped, Mississippi Power is begging our state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) for a bail out, a “settlement” as they call it.

In no way should the PSC force ratepayers to pay for Kemper – that would be an absurd $40,000 per household. Instead, the PSC should use its current settlement leverage to force it to join MISO in exchange for rate concessions on the natural gas portion of the Kemper plant. Once in MISO, it would be hard for Mississippi Power and its parent the Southern Company, to propose other stand-alone proprietary power plants that would increase our electric bills. There simply wouldn’t be a need.

Competition is coming in the electricity market. In Texas, consumers can buy electricity from the power plant of their choice. Not surprisingly, price is the overwhelming factor, although some Texans prefer to pay more for green energy. Pushing all Mississippi utility companies into MISO is a logical first step and lays the groundwork for further competition down the road.