Energy secretary tours Kemper power plant

Energy secretary tours Kemper power plant


By Terri Ferguson Smith / 

The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Calling it a “look into the future,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the lignite plant under construction in Kemper County is “quite remarkable.”

Moniz and numerous dignitaries from other countries toured the Mississippi Power plant that is expected to open in late 2014. More than 6,000 workers are helping build the plant.

The event followed the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) Ministerial Meeting in Washington, D.C., where the Kemper project was endorsed by the CSLF and added to its portfolio of pioneering activities.

During the visit, international energy ministry officials representing more than a half dozen countries discussed the opportunities to use the facility’s technology to meet their nations’ energy needs.

“We’re going to need not 10, maybe 100 more of these plants across the country,” Moniz said.

The site is of interest because Southern Company, which is Mississippi Power Company’s parent company, along with the Department of Energy, partnered to develop technology to use lignite to produce power, something that was not possible previously because of the high moisture content of lignite.

“It is designed specifically to manage Mississippi lignite,” Moniz said. “It has a lot of water in it and water would normally be a real challenge for this gasification approach. Southern has developed this process that specifically manages the very wet, shall we say, Mississippi coal.”

Joining Moniz at the Kemper facility were Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, Southern Company Chairman, President and CEO Thomas A. Fanning, Mississippi Power President and CEO Ed Holland and energy ministry officials from around the world, including Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom.

“The risks of global warming and climate change are real,” Moniz said.

Moniz, who endorsed the technology, said this opens the door to lignite gasification in other areas, and it is environmentally clean.

Moniz said he favors an “all of the above” approach, which brings a variety of clean, renewable fuel sources together.

“The Kemper County energy facility’s technology provides a way to maintain coal’s place in a clean, safe, reliable and affordable portfolio of energy resources,” said Fanning. “Today’s visit demonstrates the international interest in using 21st century coal technology first deployed in Mississippi to help power economies around the globe.”

Gov. Bryant said Mississippi has “zero tolerance” for environmental affects and said he too is convinced the technology is clean.

In April, Mississippi Power announced that it had revised its cost estimate of the plant’s construction from approximately $2.88 billion to approximately $3.42 billion. MP’s customers saw a rate increase earlier this year related to the original construction cost, but company officials have said the cost overrun will not be passed down to the customers.

The rate change has prompted some protests and complaints, and when asked about it, Moniz said he was aware of those concerns.

“We are all concerned about costs,” Moniz said. “The cost overruns have not been passed on to the rate payers from the agreement from 2009-2010. In terms of any new plant — any type, brought onto the system, I think typically you’ve had even larger rate impacts. To my understanding, the rate impact is certainly nothing unusual for any major new power plant of any technology.”