kemper plant By XTUV0010 via Wikimedia Commons

Southern Co. Suspends Coal Gasification

Mississippi Power is immediately suspending start-up and operations activities involving the lignite gasification portion of the Kemper County energy facility. The combined cycle plant has been serving customers with reliable and affordable electricity for almost three years. The facility will continue to operate using natural gas pending the Mississippi Public Service Commission's decision on future operations.

This action is being taken to preserve the safety and health of the workforce and safety of the facility, while still retaining the necessary workforce to operate the combined cycle power plant.

"We are committed to ensuring the ongoing focus and safety of employees while we consider the future of the project, including any possible actions that may be taken by the Commission," said Southern Company Chairman, President and CEO Thomas A. Fanning. "We believe this decision is in the best interests of our employees, customers, investors and all other stakeholders."

Southern Company and Mississippi Power believe this is the appropriate step to manage costs given the economics of the project and the Commission's intent to establish a settlement docket to address Kemper-related matters including the future operation of the gasifier portion of the project.

The Kemper County plant was supposed to be a demonstration of the power of clean coal, and, despite running five years late and more than $4 billion over budget, Kemper was able to start testing its coal gasification operations late last year. The plant used a chemical process to break down lignite coal into synthesis gas, or “syngas,” which was then fed into a generator. The syngas burns cleaner than pulverized lignite coal does. In addition, emissions were caught by a carbon capture system and delivered to a nearby oil field to help with oil extraction.

But with only 200 days of gasification operations under its belt, Kemper identified more issues with its technology, including design flaws that caused leaks and ash buildup, as noted in an article on Ars Technica. Last week, the MPSC indicated that it would refuse to allow Southern to raise rates to cover Kemper’s continued construction and maintenance for gasification.

The company will fully participate in the proposed settlement docket to be established by the Commission on July 6. The company will make any future announcements as to the status of the project based on the outcome of that process or future Commission action.

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