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Second multi-million dollar power plant in works for Lowndes County

Lightning strikes twice

CALEDONIA – “Lightning” has struck twice in Lowndes County with the announcement of plans to build a second large new power generating facility here.

This summer a 475-megawatt facility built near Caledonia by Enron Corp. of Houston, Texas, came on line to provide electricity during periods of peak demand. And now Cogentrix Energy Inc. of Charlotte, N.C., has announced plans to build a new $300-million, 800-megawatt electric generating plant near Caledonia.

The Cogentrix project represents one of the state’s largest new industrial projects for 1999, and is the second time this year the company has targeted Mississippi for a new power plant. In June Cogentrix announced plans for a $300-million, 800-megawatt generating facility to be constructed in Southaven. The announcement of the Caledonia plant was made in September. Cogentrix also has a similar plant under construction in Batesville in partnership with LS Power.

The Cogentrix plants will be fueled by natural gas, and will operate 24 hours per day to provide electricity throughout the Southeast.

Jeff Freeman, vice president of Cogentrix, said his company’s decision to locate near Caledonia was influenced by two primary needs of the plant: an adequate supply of natural gas, and electric transmission lines to distribute the electricity produced at the plant.

Freeman said the projects will utilize the latest in combustion control technologies to ensure that it will be one of the most efficient facilities of its type in the U.S. He said there is continuing growth in demand for electricity in the U.S., and that electricity generated at the Columbus plant will be sold to other power providers such as Tennessee Valley Electric and Southern Company.

“For the past 10 years, there’s been a lot of discussion of the restructuring of the electric power industry,” Freeman said. “As a result most of the industry has just sat back and waited to see how that was going to play out. Well, growth has continued, people continue to come into the area, and the southeastern part of the United States is probably the most rapidly growing in the country. As a result there is a lot of pent-up need for new generation.”

Freeman said the shortage of power that led to brownouts this summer in parts of the Entergy systems and elsewhere show there is a need for more electrical generation in the Southeast.

“A lot of systems throughout the country are finding themselves in need of additional power capacity,” Freeman said. “Entergy just announced a program where they are going to be doing a lot of additional generating within service territory to catch them back up. We hope to provide needed generation to the Entergys of the world.”

Cogentrix is in the process of applying for environmental permits and financing for the Caledonia power plant. Construction on the facility is expected to begin in the third quarter of 2000. About 25 permanent jobs are expected to be created with an annual payroll of $1.3 million. Construction employment is expected to range from between 150 and 300 for the project that will take two years to complete.

Freeman said the electric generating plants that run off natural gas produce less pollution than coal-fired plants.

“What will happen over time as the new, natural gas power generation is brought in to service, the less environmentally friendly types of technology can be displaced,” Freeman said. “So what you are seeing over time is an advancement of technology. It is our responsibility to seek permits through the regulatory agency, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, that will show we will have no significant impact on air quality in Lowndes County.”

There has been some local opposition to the project by nearby residents who are concerned about noise and pollution from the operation.

Charleigh Ford, executive director of the Columbus-Lowndes County Economic Development Association, said he visited a Cogentrix facility in Washington state earlier this year, and was impressed with what he saw. He said Cogentrix is planning an earthen berm and natural barriers of trees to mitigate noise from the facility near Caledonia, making it as unobtrusive as possible.

Ford said he believes that once the environmental permitting process is complete, people will understand that they are being protected by the permitting process. The company also plans to form a local committee to allow residents to give input on the facility.

Ford said construction of the facility will have a major impact on the local economy. Many local businesses benefitted from the construction of the $120-million Enron plant, and Ford expects the impact on the local economy from construction of the Cogentrix plant to be even greater.

“In terms of sheer capital investment, this is by far the largest investment in the county this year,” Ford said. “These things are very capital intensive.”

Columbus-Lowndes Economic Development Association president Roger Bell said the facility represents a huge financial investment in the community that will not only provide tremendous tax revenues to Lowndes County and the county’s school system, but also enable many other opportunities for infrastructure development needed in the area.

“Not only will this project stimulate growth, it has the added benefits of attracting new developments that will further enhance the quality of life in our community,” Bell said. “I have had the pleasure of working closely with the representatives of Cogentrix, and have found them to be both interested in our community and responsive to our needs.”

Cogentrix is currently financing or constructing plants that will deliver an additional 1,400 megawatts of energy, and has in excess of 5,000 megawatts in active development. For more information on Cogentrix, visit the corporate Web site at www.cogentrix.com.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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