Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, at 36, has more political experience in his dossier than many people in political life twice his age, and he has established a reputation for stepping out of the box in proposing new ideas.
This week, Presley proposed that Mississippi’s major natural gas distribution companies consider how residents of rural areas might be served with natural gas delivered by pipelines to their door, like thousands of Mississippians in towns and cities enjoy.
Presley asked for companies to submit proposals to him as public service commissioner in 60 days.
“We can’t say an exact number of people who need this resource, but there are a huge number of communities who lack access to natural gas,” Presley said at a Monday news conference in Tupelo. “Especially with the winter we’ve had, we’ve seen a huge uptick in requests for it.”
The winter included a visit by the Polar Vortex, a relatively rare and exceptionally intense weather phenomenon that sent temperatures to the low single digits in much of northern Mississippi.
The cold pushed the Tennessee Valley Authority, which is the regional electricity supplier, to keep pace with demand.
“What I’m looking for is a pilot program,” Presley said, cutting to the bottom line of what he seeks first.
“Just a test to see what the best plan of action will be, and what the first steps are in building this infrastructure statewide,” he said.
Presley called on Atmos and Center Point, two major suppliers, to consider residents both within their current franchise area, and in areas that do not fall under coverage.
Robert Lesley, public affairs director for Atmos Energy’s Mississippi division, said pilot programs are operating in select rural areas near the provider’s service territory.
“I want everyone who wants natural gas at their home or business to have it. One of the main ways to help Mississippians keep more of their money in their pockets is to give them choices,” Presley said. “And if they still want propane or butane, that’s fine, but they don’t have a choice without a natural gas pipeline running in front of their house.”
Analyzing the possibilities is the only way to find out if the idea is feasible.
Correction: Sunday’s editorial contained an error in stating the cost of a new bridge crossing U.S. Highway 78 at Coley Road Extended. The cost is approximately $10.5 million. The decimal point was inadvertently omitted in the editorial.