Bryant names Steve Renfroe to empty spot on PSC

govbryantslideJEFF AMY, Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A former Chevron Corp. lobbyist was named to the Public Service Commission on Tuesday, and says he’s undecided about Mississippi Power’s $4.7 billion Kemper County project.

Gov. Phil Bryant named Steve Renfroe, a former Chevron employee, to the vacant southern district seat. The 64-year-old Moss Point resident will serve out the rest of the term of Republican Leonard Bentz, who resigned from the post last month to become executive director of the South Mississippi Planning and Development District.

“He has integrity, the right experience, and a heart for South Mississippi,” Bryant said in a statement. “I have every confidence Steve will do an excellent job.”

Commissioners make $78,000 per year.

Renfroe, who says he doesn’t plan to seek election in 2015, says he doesn’t have an opinion on whether the plant being built by the unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co. is worthwhile.

“The idea of being fair and considering all of the issues and pinpointing the best solution is what I’m committed to,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Bryant testified in favor of Kemper and continues to support the project, but his appointee said he hadn’t pledged to back Kemper.

“There was never any talk about how I might vote on any particular issue and there was no litmus test,” Renfroe said.

Renfroe is likely to face a series of thorny votes over the project, which includes a lignite-fueled power plant, associated mine and pipeline. The commission is likely to vote on a seven-year rate plan to help pay for Kemper, and will also have to approve the prudence of spending by Mississippi Power on the project. Opponents are pushing the PSC to rule that spending was imprudent, which would add to the almost $1 billion in cost overruns that Southern Co. stockholders have already agreed to pay. Another $1 billion is supposed to be paid for by bonds that ratepayers will pay off, but without profit for Mississippi Power.

“I hope he’s coming to the position ready to protect the ratepayers from all the bad business decisions made by Mississippi Power” said Louie Miller, Mississippi director of the Sierra Club, a continuing opponent of the project.

Renfroe retired from Chevron in 2011, where he had capped a 35-year career by serving as the head of public and governmental affairs since 1998. The refinery was Mississippi Power’s largest customer when he worked there. Renfroe said he couldn’t remember if Chevron took a position on Kemper, and Public Service Commission employees could not find any correspondence Tuesday from Chevron relating to the project.

Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock said that Renfroe’s decision not to seek election makes him “as independent as possible.”

Chevron and Mississippi Power have a deeper-than-usual relationship. Mississippi Power owns a cogeneration plant in Pascagoula that uses heat from Chevron to make electricity.

Renfroe has been deeply involved in civic activities in his native Jackson County, even taking the part of French explorer Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville in a historical re-enactment in Ocean Springs. He has served as chairman of the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service and helped bring the Pascagoula River Audubon Center to Moss Point.

He has served as chairman of Excel By 5, an early childhood education effort that he and his wife helped start.

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