Entergy Mississippi to cut rates as natural gas costs fall

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Only months after Entergy Mississippi customers got a break on electricity bills because of falling natural gas prices, they're likely to get another.

Pending approval by the Public Service Commission, the unit of New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. expects to collect $75 million less in 2016 to pay for natural gas. For residential customers who use 1,000 kW of electricity per month, bills would fall in February from $100 to $93.

State law calls for privately owned utilities to recover their fuel costs, without making a profit. But natural gas prices have fallen below what Entergy predicted when it filed its yearly plan in late 2014 to buy natural gas. The company was collecting so much money that it made a special mid-year filing, cutting rates by 6 percent, or $46 million overall, for six months starting in September.

But even that wasn't enough to balance the books. Entergy is still on track to collect $48 million more than it will spend in 2015.

"They kept falling, so we missed the mark," spokeswoman Mara Hartmann said of prices Monday. The company contracts for some natural gas in advance, but buys some on the spot market.

The new filing will refund that $48 million during 2016, as well as cut rates by another $27 million to account for predictions that gas prices will stay low next year.

About 44 percent of the electricity that Entergy has generated so far in 2015 is from plants that burn natural gas.

Entergy Mississippi, with 442,000 customers in the western half of the state, went through a period when it raised rates five times in two years in 2013 and 2014. Now costs to customers have fallen four times this year, for a total decrease of more than 15 percent.

Mississippi Power Co. also announced last week that it would cut rates because it had collected too much this year to pay for natural gas and projects that costs will remain lower next year. A 1,000 kwh-a-month residential customer of that unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co. would save $14 per month over the next year if regulators approve. Rates would remain more than a third higher than for Entergy customers, though.

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