Entergy raises Mississippi rates by 5 percent

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Entergy Corp. customers in Mississippi will pay about 5 percent from July through December 2014, as the company seeks to recover higher natural gas fuel costs.

The increase, projected to raise $38.6 million during its six-month duration, was approved unanimously Tuesday by the Mississippi Public Service Commission.

Electricity bills will go up by $5.58 a month, from July through December, for residential customers using 1,000 kilowatt hours. That's a standard industry benchmark, but the average Entergy Mississippi customer uses about 1,300 kilowatt hours per month. At that level, residential customers will pay $141.56 per month.

"This should be a temporary six-month fix, and hopefully we can revert this back down in six months," said Entergy Mississippi President Haley Fisackerly.

It's the fifth rate increase in two years for Entergy Mississippi. The company already won a 4.1 percent rate increase earlier this year to cover higher costs of natural gas. But instead of recovering an accumulated deficit of $38 million, Entergy fell further behind, with the gap widening to $60 million.

Entergy Mississippi said that it paid more for natural gas when prices rose last winter. At the same time, because Entergy was refueling its Grand Gulf nuclear plant. That meant that instead of being dependent on natural gas for half the electricity the company delivers, it was dependent on gas for 60 percent of power production during that time, which lined up with the coldest part of winter.

Fisackerly said the company makes financial transactions to lock in the cost of 25 percent to 30 percent of its natural gas needs, but is exposed to market swings for the rest of its purchases. Entergy regulatory affairs manager Dorman Davis testified in May that Entergy needs the money so it doesn't exhaust its short-term borrowing capacity of $92.5 million.

"It's really not anything we have any control over," said Commissioner Lynn Posey, a Republican who represents the central district.

Combined, the increases have raised Entergy's rates from the ultra-low levels of 2011, when electricity cost residential customers 8.38 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 1,000 hours, according to EIA figures. After the current increase, that amount will have risen nearly 36 percent to 11.37 cents.

Fisackerly said Entergy Mississippi still plans to file a rate case later in 2014. That would be the first top-to-bottom re-examination of Entergy's rates in 12 years, although limited exams are done every year as part of a formula that readjusts rates.

Based in New Orleans, Entergy serves 441,000 customers in 45 counties in western Mississippi.

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