Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

Greenwood Commonwealth. Sept. 2, 2021.

Editorial: Hard Questions For Entergy

When you see half-mile long electric lines floating in the Mississippi River, as the New Orleans area did on Monday after Hurricane Ida stormed through, it’s a sure bet a utility company has some explaining to do.

The utility company is Entergy, which also serves significant areas of western Mississippi. Therefore the questions from Louisiana will be of interest up here as well.

As The Washington Post reported this week, Entergy issued a news release in 2019 after a $100 million upgrade to its electrical grid around New Orleans, saying the work was a foundation for its network’s storm resilience.

Ouch. That just goes to show you how hurricanes and similar forces of nature have a way of making all of us look weak and unprepared. As does the toppling of a 400-foot transmission tower beside the Mississippi River, one of many high-profile Ida casualties that Entergy says will take weeks to repair.

“Entergy, the power provider for 3 million customers in the Gulf region, has over the past decade been fined for deferring maintenance of its aging infrastructure and criticized for moving too slowly to reinforce its grid against severe weather,” the Post reported. “The company resisted calls to increase investments in renewable energy sources, which climate advocates see as a way to prevent widespread outages.”

Entergy and others say it’s still too early to assess blame for the New Orleans area’s complete electricity failures. But the company clearly has its own assessment to perform: The hurricane knocked down all eight of its transmission lines that bring electricity to New Orleans, and more than 170 of its Louisiana substations were damaged.

Hurricane Ida was more powerful than expected, and when the storm slowed down after landfall, that provided extra time for it to cause serious damage all over Southeast Louisiana.

Neighboring Southwest Mississippi took a pretty nasty hit as well, but repairs thankfully have proceeded steadily. Put it this way: Only a few customers in Mississippi will be without electricity for weeks — as opposed to an estimated 1 million people in Louisiana.

This is sure to be a lively debate. Entergy, which operates in four states, says the company invested $4.2 billion in its transmission lines from 2014 to 2019, and also fortified its infrastructure in areas around New Orleans that are vulnerable to hurricanes.

But the Post said regulators believe Entergy has fallen behind on spending the necessary money to prevent widespread outages like the one it’s now repairing.

Renewable energy advocates criticize the company, and their regulators, for failing to put more money into solar- and battery-powered “microgrids” to provide power in small areas after a hurricane. Entergy responded that a 100% renewable-powered electric grid is not feasible.

The first order of business is to get the power back on so that people can get back home. After that, it’s very clear that there will be plenty of questions for Entergy to answer.

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Tupelo Daily Journal. Sept. 1, 2021.

Editorial: Senate bipartisan infrastructure bill would benefit Mississippi

The bipartisan infrastructure bill the U.S. Senate passed last month would be a boon to Mississippi, and we hope our House congressional delegation will unite behind it to benefit the people they represent.

Sen. Roger Wicker, who supported the bill, told the Daily Journal that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would invest billions of dollars in Mississippi. The White House released information detailing what that investment would look like.

Here are a few examples of how Mississippi would benefit from the bill:

— $3.3 billion in federal-aid for highway programs

— $429 million to improve water infrastructure

— $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs

— $223 million for public transportation improvements

— $100 million to provide broadband coverage

— $99 million for airport improvements

— $51 million for expansion of an electric vehicle charging network

— $19 million to protect against wildfires

— $16 million to protect against cyberattacks

All totaled, Mississippi would receive up to $4.46 billion over five years for various projects.

Take roads and bridges, for example. Mississippi has nearly 1,400 bridges and nearly 6,000 miles of roadways in need of repair. While the state has passed some measures to help address needed improvements, much more is needed. Plus — as Wicker points out — the state could pass along some of these federal dollars to fund county projects, something current state funding is not adequately addressing.

Water and sewer infrastructure across the state also faces many challenges, particularly in rural water associations. Funding for major improvements has been hard to find for these associations, and this bill would help address that.

Mississippi has experienced great success in the area of broadband expansion, particularly among local electric co-ops or where energy companies have existing dark fiber lines that are now able to be converted for consumer internet use. However, extending broadband into other areas — including cities like Tupelo — remains more costly. These federal funds would allow other providers to benefit from the same assistance as rural co-ops and energy companies, thus expanding access to more consumers.

Mississippi is in great need of infrastructure investment, and the Senate bill is responsible and targeted in its approach, eschewing items that are outside the sphere of traditional infrastructure projects.

While the bill totals approximately $1 trillion, that is somewhat misleading. As Wicker points out, the bill includes $500 billion of what Congress normally spends on infrastructure spending, meaning additional spending is about $550 billion — far less than the more than $1 trillion in new spending that was originally proposed.

The House has already paved the way for this bill to be voted on by late September. We would encourage Mississippi’s entire congressional House delegation to support this bill and to resist the urge to play politics with it in other budget negotiations.

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The (Columbus) Dispatch. Sept. 1, 2021.

Editorial: Higgins’ board resignation signals Communiversity concerns

Long before the phrase “workforce training” became a mantra of every candidate for statewide office, Joe Max Higgins was sounding the alarm about Mississippi’s shortage of skilled manufacturing workers.

Almost since his arrival as CEO of the Golden Triangle Development LINK 18 years ago, Higgins has lamented that many of the jobs created by the new industry coming to the area had to be imported, too.

Generally, when someone discovers a truth that eludes others for years, that person is considered a visionary. In this particular case, not much vision was required. The problem was plain to see: Local workers just weren’t prepared for the demands of the arriving new industries.

Because of that, Higgins has been a big advocate for — and at times an acerbic critic of — East Mississippi Community College’s workforce training program and was a powerful voice for the creation of EMCC’s Communiversity, a $42-million state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing training center, which opened two years ago.

It was also a big part of the reason Higgins applied for a spot on EMCC’s Board of Trustees in January 2019.

Critics may say that Higgins was too single-minded, that he focused too much of his attention on Communiversity and workforce training.

Higgins would argue that the majority of the board and EMCC leadership spent too little effort on the matter, which best explains Higgins’ decision to resign from the EMCC Board on Tuesday.

Higgins elaborated on his decision to leave the EMCC board during Tuesday’s appearance at the Columbus Rotary Club at Lion Hills Center.

“It can’t be fixed,” Higgins said. “Quite frankly, nobody’s working the high schools to get those kids pipelined (to the Communiversity). They’re just not.”

Higgins noted that there are 160 students enrolled at Communiversity, about 75 percent of its original goal, with an expectation that enrollment would increase beyond that in the years to come.

EMCC President Scott Alsobrooks did not address that criticism in his statement responding to Higgins’ resignation, but did note that COVID-19, which arrived in the area in significant numbers less than a year after classes at Communiversity started, has had a significant impact on Communiversity enrollment.

Coordination with high school vocational programs to attract students to community college workforce training programs is something Lt. Gov. Delbert Hoesmann noted as far back as 2018 when he served as Secretary of State. Hoesmann said there were “silos” of workforce training scattered across the state, but said there was nothing in place to coordinate those efforts.

Last year, in his role as lieutenant governor and leader of the state senate, Hosemann led the way for legislation that reconfigured the state workforce investment board with a workforce “czar” to oversee efforts to create a collaboration between those workforce training “silos.”

From Higgins’ view, at least, that’s had little effect, at least not at the Communiversity.

COVID and other factors may account for disappointing enrollment, but when you consider the $42 million investment comes to about a quarter-million dollars per student, the disappointment is understandable.

While we understand Higgins’ frustration, we regret his decision. EMCC — and more specifically Communiversity — is made weaker by his absence.

Higgins’ resignation comes at a time when the LINK is closing in on multiple new projects that altogether would produce about 550 jobs, ranging in pay from $42,000 to $75,00 per year.

How many of those jobs will be filled by local workers is the question.

We love importing new industry to our area, but we much prefer the workers at those factories be home-grown.

Higgins’ resignation from the EMCC Board makes us concerned about our ability to do that anytime soon.

END