EDITORIAL: Power business

Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley’s stand-tough position about the operations, director elections and finances of Mississippi’s electric power cooperatives is a long overdue movement toward more transparency fully in the public interest.
Cooperatives, which serve geographically specific areas by selling electric power to private, commercial and most industrial customers after purchasing it wholesale from producers like TVA and Entergy, literally brought light to every rural corner of our state in the 20th century.
Their personnel rush in to maintain and restore electric power in the jaws of disasters and often work under the most adverse conditions. They cooperate with one another and send extra help where it’s needed in our state and across the U.S.
Those work practices and policies are fully commendable.
Public issues with cooperatives usually rise over how they’re run (governed by boards of directors and managed by board-appointed administrators) and customers’ complaints, suspicions and, in some cases, legitimate concerns about improper operation.
Presley has been involved in forcing the Tippah County Electric Power Association to hold fully publicized board elections, ending a virtual closed society that for years had controlled who sat on the board and kept close to its corporate vest its finances and operating policies.
Most cooperatives, which rise out of congressional mandates and laws dating from the Franklin Roosevelt administration in the 1930s, handle significant sums of money. Some, Presley said last week in an interview with the Daily Journal, hold millions of dollars in reserve.
The annual reports for 2008 filed with the PSC’s office – all of which are public record – show various reserves and investments in the TVA-region cooperatives totaling more than $35 million.
Those same EPAs, serving many northern, northeast and east-central Mississippi counties and communities, produce several hundred million dollars in annual operating revenue. The revenue, in the main, comes from ratepayers who are membrs of the cooperatives and who should not have to beg or jump through hoops to see full financial disclosure and have their cooperatives’ finances (including personnel costs) explained and questions answered.
Presley contends that some or perhaps all of the excess over operating expenditures under law should be refunded to customers, known as members in the official language of the cooperatives. That claim requires clarity and examination.
This is not to suggest that criminality is involved, but Presley’s point that the cooperatives owe full disclosure to their members, and by extension to the public, is well taken.
No honestly run entity like a member-owned cooperative should fear full disclosure or examination by an agency like the Public Service Commission operating in the public interest.
The PSC has no rate-setting regulatory authority over TVA-affiliated cooperatives, but it apparently has authority to demand disclosure and to examine bylaws and operations for full compliance with correct and legal processes.
Shedding light where doors have been closed can only enhance the standing of cooperatives meeting their mission as businesses run with integrity.

Tennessee Valley Authority power in Mississippi:

• In fiscal year 2008, TVA sold about 11.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity to 14 municipal
and 14 cooperatively owned power companies serving customers in Mississippi.
• TVA’s power revenues in Mississippi amounted to more than $676 million in fiscal year 2008
or about 9 percent of all TVA operating revenues.
• Distributors of TVA power are located in 36 Mississippi counties and serve more than
320,000 households, with sales of 5.1 billion kilowatt-hours in 2008.
• Distributors of TVA power served almost 82,000 commercial and industrial customers in
Mississippi in fiscal year 2008, with sales of nearly 6 billion kilowatt-hours. In addition,
distributors in Mississippi sold approximately 208 million kilowatt-hours to outdoor-lighting
customers.
• During fiscal year 2008, TVA provided more than 3.3 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity
directly to seven large industries and one federally owned installation in Mississippi.
• Municipal and cooperatively owned power companies sell TVA electricity in the counties of Alcorn, Attala, Benton, Calhoun, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Clay, De Soto, Grenada, Itawamba,
Kemper, Lafayette, Leake, Lee, Lowndes, Marshall, Monroe, Neshoba, Newton, Noxubee,
Oktibbeha, Panola, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Quitman, Rankin, Scott, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tippah, Tishomingo, Tunica, Union, Webster, Winston, and Yalobusha.

NEMS Daily Journal