Hardwick talks gas consumption, profit margins, MVG structure

By By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
Feb. 26, 2001
Dozens of power generating plants either planned or built in Mississippi over the last several years will influence the price paid by consumers of natural gas, according to a Mississippi Valley Gas executive.
Phil Hardwick, vice president of Community and Economic Development, says he believes some of the plants  usually fueled by natural gas are vastly increasing demand for natural gas and therefore driving prices up for customers.
Although not all these new plants make use of natural gas as their fuel source, Hardwick says more and more companies are turning to natural gas because it's cheap, efficient and environmentally clean.
According to Hardwick, most new plants being built in Mississippi are not generating power for Mississippians, but rather selling the electricity for profit in the national open, deregulated markets.
Hardwick said many of these new plants were locating in Mississippi because of the proximity to electricity transmission lines, an abundance of water and to interstate natural gas pipelines. Mississippi's rural nature provides many of the plants the resources they need to operate. The state has more natural gas pipelines running under it than any other state.
Unfortunately, according to Hardwick, utility customers are often the ones to suffer from the impact of the increased demand caused by the new plants because they create a revolving effect of high prices for both gas and electrical companies.
One alternative might be the development of a new national energy policy, Hardwick said, which encourages and promotes other energy sources, such as clean-burning coal or nuclear.
Contrary to popular opinion Hardwick says Mississippi Valley Gas isn't getting rich off the higher prices of gas because the company's profits are strictly regulated by the Mississippi Public Service Commission.
More demand, colder weather and lower supplies of natural gas have been to blame for the rise in natural gas prices on the open market, according to the executive. Hardwick says those higher prices on the market are absorbed by his company and passed along with no additional charges but their own cost of delivering the gas to homes.
If MVG was making huge profits off natural gas prices Hardwick said customers would be surprised where much of the money would be going.
The utility is a privately-owned company whose two stockholders are the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation and a deceased man's estate.
Hardwick said half of company profits flow through the support foundation into Mississippi's institutions of higher learning.
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at balexander@themeridianstar.com.

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