History of Mississippi Power
Mississippi Power was established at midnight on December 31, 1924, when it took over the assets of the Gulfport and Mississippi Coast Traction Company, which operated a small generating plant in Gulfport and an electric railway from Pass Christian to Biloxi. Today, the company is a member of Southern Company, the world's largest utility holding company.
Initially, the company offered limited electric service to about 5,500 customers along the Coast. Growth was rapid, even though in some of the smaller towns electricity was available only at night. By the end of 1929, the company had nearly 40,000 customers along the eastern half of Mississippi from the Coast to the Tennessee border.
With the advent of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s, however, the government planned to duplicate the company's facilities in the northern half of its service area. As a result, Mississippi Power was forced to sell its facilities in the northeast quarter of the state to TVA. That sale reduced the company's service area to the 23 southeastern counties of Mississippi, the area it continues to serve today.
During the early years of the company, electricity was transmitted to eastern Mississippi from hydroelectric facilities in Alabama. During the Depression, the company began planning a new generating plant of its own. That plant, which would be named for the company's first president, Barney Eaton, was delayed by difficulties connected with the Depression. Those problems were followed by material restrictions and manpower shortages during World War II. Plant Eaton, near Hattiesburg, finally began commercial operation in 1945.
It did not take nearly as long to bring the next generating plant on line. In 1951, Mississippi Power's second generating plant, located near Meridian, named for the company's second president, Lonnie P. Sweatt, began producing electricity. In 1953, a second unit was added to Plant Sweatt and for the first time in its history, the company generated 1 billion kilowatt-hours.
Just two years later, in 1955, the company began construction of yet another generating plant. This plant was on the Gulf Coast where the largest number of the company's customers lived. The plant began operating in July 1957 and was named for the company's third president, Jack Watson.
In 1962, in partnership with one of its sister companies, Alabama Power, Mississippi Power began construction of a generating plant along the Warrior River near Demopolis, Alabama. Today, Mississippi Power owns 40 percent of the 200-megawatt Greene County Generating Plant.
The most recent plant built by the company was named after its fourth president, Victor J. Daniel, and was started in Jackson County in 1974. In 1976, Gulf Power, another member of Southern Company, signed on as a partner. The first 500-megawatt unit began operation in 1977 and a second unit of the same size went into operation in 1981.
In the spring of 1999, the company broke ground for two combined cycle gas-fired generating units at Plant Daniel. These two units would increase the company's generating capacity by 50 percent and represent the latest technology for efficiency and environmental protection at the time.
Weathering crises and storms
The year 2000 came in without a hitch, although naysayers over the world predicted dire consequences when electronic devices would short-circuit as the clock struck midnight. Mississippi Power prepared for the possibilities of the "Y2K Bug" like every other industry. Teams of employees worked through 1999 checking and rechecking critical systems. In the end, there was not a single blip when the clocks changed.
With its service area located in South Mississippi, Mississippi Power must always be prepared for tropical storms and hurricanes, which can be particularly dangerous to electric systems. Strong winds blow down poles and lines; storm surge and flooding damage underground systems.
After a storm, recovery doesn't really start until electric service is restored. Therefore, the company takes its role in weather situations seriously, regularly updating storm plans and procedures.
Mississippi Power's first experience with a major hurricane was in 1947 before storms had names. That hurricane smashed the seawall and destroyed parts of U.S. 90, leading to the creation of the sand beach as a storm buffer. There can be little doubt that the company's electrical system suffered extensive damage as well.
Until Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Camille in 1969 was the storm to measure all others against. Camille knocked out 35 percent of Mississippi Power's 230 kV lines, 65 percent of the 115 kV lines and 77 percent of the 46 kV lines. In addition, 174 transmission towers were down.
But Mississippi Power's brand new office building facing the beach was still standing, essentially unharmed. Mississippi Power's 850 employees, aided by 1,600 personnel from outside the company restored service in record time. For this restoration effort, the company received the electric utility industry's highest honor, the Edison Award.
Additional storms between Camille and Katrina included Frederic in 1979, Elena in 1985 and Georges in 1998. The damage from each of these storms was extensive, reaching as far north as Meridian in some instances.
Then there was Katrina
On August 29, 2005, Mississippi Power experienced the greatest challenge in its history when Hurricane Katrina devastated its service area and its communities. The storm was the worst national disaster experienced to date by the United States.
After the storm, not a single customer had electric service. Mississippi Power's electrical system had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Katrina created personal tragedy for employees - more than 100 lost their homes. Yet, putting aside personal losses, they went to work. With the help of 12,000 workers who came from every state and Canada, service was restored to all customers who could safely receive power within 12 days after the storm. Many employees worked 18 hours a day to make this happen.
For its efforts after Katrina, Mississippi Power was presented its second Edison Award.
After initial restoration of the electrical system was complete, the company set about repairing and rebuilding office and other company buildings damaged by the storm. In the interim, employees were housed in trailers and rented spaces of buildings still standing.
In fact, displaced employees did not start moving back into company buildings until 2006. When the company gathered with community leaders, including the governor, to observe the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the headquarters building was still undergoing repairs.
At the same time, crews were going back through the electrical system, more strongly shoring it up to restore not only the energy, but the reliability for which the company has become known. Transmission rebuilding came to an end early in 2006 when the Ocean Springs-Moss Point East substation was energized.
By the second anniversary of Katrina, the headquarters building had been rededicated and a metal sculpture titled "Forward" that had been commissioned by the company was unveiled on the plaza in front of the building.
The Public Service Commission also approved the company's plan to build a new "hardened" Storm Center further inland to protect its critical operations.
Mississippi Power also teamed with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to begin restocking the Pascagoula River after the storm's massive fish kill. More than 2,500 largemouth bass fingerlings were released into the river the first year, with more released in two subsequent years.
Champion of education
The company has always been a champion of education. In the 1980s, it began the bold step of rewarding the best teachers in the service area with cash awards they could use in their schools and personally. These awards, the Barton Excellence in Teaching Awards, were named after Mississippi Power President Alan R. Barton.
The company also established the Mississippi Power Education Foundation, through which donations could be made to many types of education programs.
One of those programs is the New Teacher Assistance Grant program, designed to attract and retain high quality teachers to service area schools. The program provides $750 grants to help first-year teachers set up classrooms.
The company also pledged a three-year total commitment to Mississippi State University's Early Childhood Education Institute and endowed a professorship in electrical and computer engineering at the university with a $500,000 commitment.
The right choice for energy future
Supplying the service area with reliable electricity at the lowest possible cost is the company's first obligation. Without electricity, economic development and education cannot prosper.
To ensure a steady, reliable source of electricity, the company announced in 2006 plans to build a new plant in Kemper County that would operate using advanced coal gasification technology. The approval of federal investment tax credits jump-started the project, which was approved after a lengthy process in 2010.
As the first decade of the 21st century comes to an end, Mississippi Power remains a leader in the community and in the state, bringing the latest technology to South Mississippi and providing the power that helps make the State of Mississippi run.