Mississippi Power trying to quell protests from Sierra Club

By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog

Mississippi Power is trying to silence one of its biggest critics in a debate over an untested power project.
The utility has filed a motion with the Mississippi Public Service Commission, the state’s governing body for utilities, to end the Sierra Club’s participation in PSC hearings about the Kemper Project.

The Sierra Club fired back with another motion to the PSC, and the three-member commission will likely take the issue up at its monthly meeting April 1.

“We’ve learned that these folks are capable of anything,” said Louie Miller, the state director of the Sierra Club. “It’s a sign of desperation for them that they’re retaliating against any disagreement. It indicates they don’t like a setting where someone is asking hard questions.”

In the motion, the utility accuses the Sierra Club of trying to “highjack the Kemper prudence proceedings.”
From the start, the Kemper Project has been dogged with technical and financial issues.

STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION: The Kemper Project, a first-of-its-kind power plant that converts pulverized coal dust into natural gas-like syngas to fuel power-generating turbines, has ballooned from an original cost of $2.4 billion to nearly $5 billion. The plant is scheduled to open in the fourth quarter of this year, according to the Southern Company.

The power plant, in Kemper County north of Meridian, is the first large-scale application of a system that converts pulverized coal into a gas to fuel its electricity-generating turbines.

“We are excited about the progress being made at Kemper, as we are in the startup and commissioning phase and are scheduled to be fully operational in the fourth quarter of 2014,” said Mississippi Power spokesman Jeff Shepard.

It has been an expensive experiment for the Mississippi Power’s parent company, the Southern Company. The 582-megawatt plant, originally budgeted for $2.4 billion when approved by the PSC in 2010, will cost nearly $5 billion when it comes online in the last few months of 2014, according to the utility. The company forfeited $133 million in tax credits in 2013 after realizing the plant would miss its expected May 2014 start date.

Mississippi Power has appeared before the PSC twice in the past year to ask for rate increases to cover costs on the Kemper Project. In March last year, the commission approved a 15 percent rate increase for Mississippi Power’s 186,000 customers and another 3 percent increase that began this year.

“There’s an old saying that when you’re in a hole, you should quit digging,” Miller said. “The arrogance of the Southern Company and how they feel they can do whatever they want to do. It’s amazing how bad this project is for the ratepayers, who are going to take a bath and how it’s going to ruin the economy of south Mississippi.”

It was one of two projects approved under the Department of Energy’s Clean Coal Power Initiative. The plant is designed around the Transport Integrated Gasification process, developed by the Southern Company. The process is capable of converting less pure coals, such as a nearby deposit of lignite, to syngas, a cleaner-burning fuel like natural gas. The process, according to the Southern Company, siphons off 65 percent of the carbon dioxide from the gas stream, which will be sent via a 51-mile pipeline to a pair of companies for enhanced oil recovery, instead of being allowed to escape into the atmosphere.The plant is near a 4 billion ton supply of lignite, the Southern Company estimates.

Contact Steve Wilson at [email protected]

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