The Sierra Club filed a lawsuit today to stop Mississippi Power Company from building its $2.4 billion Kemper County clean coal plant.
The suit was filed in Harrison County Chancery Court. Mississippi Power is based in Gulfport in Harrison County and provides electricity to 23 southeastern Mississippi counties. The utility is regulated by the state Public Service Commission.
Mississippi Power announced in May that it would build the Kemper plant after the Commission passed a second conditional approval of the facility with 2-1 vote.
The Commission’s first order was passed in April and capped the project at $2.4 billion, among other restrictions. The second order, passed approximately one month later, limits the plant’s cost overruns to $2.88 billion and also allows the utility to charge customers for financing costs before the plant becomes operational.
The Sierra Club believes the Commissions’ second conditional approval of the plant is arbitrary and unsupported by evidence presented in extensive hearings regarding the project.
The suit says that the Commissioners “did not explain how their finding that a $2.88 billion cost was acceptable could be squared with their previous finding that there is no evidence to support a cost of over $2.4 billion.”
State Sierra Club director Louie Miller said the club has taken on the unexpected role of consumer advocate in addition to environmental advocate in this case.
Included in the suit is an effort to make customer rate impacts from the plant available to the public.
Mississippi Power customers do not know how much their rates will increase due to the plant’s cost. As Public Service Commission law has been interpreted historically, utilities can at their own discretion designate any information they desire as confidential.
“The rate impacts will be substantial,” Miller said. Sierra filed a motion in October to remove confidentiality on rate impacts and other items, “but the Commission chose to ignore it,” he said.
The Kemper County IGCC plant would use new technology to convert on-site Mississippi lignite coal into gas, which would then be used to produce electricity. The facility will have the distinction of being the first commercial-scale power plant in the United States to capture its carbon dioxide emissions.
The facility will produce 582 megawatts of new generation and is scheduled to be operational by 2014. Mississippi Power has said the plant will save customers money in the long run, because stable lignite costs will be lower than natural gas prices, which have been historically volatile.
The Sierra Club is a non-profit environmental conservation group with more than 700,000 nationwide. Approximately 1,700 Mississippians are members of the group.