The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is falsely claiming that the Kemper coal project would benefit Mississippi’s economy. The truth is that ratepayers, who can ill afford higher electricity bills, are going to be stuck with up to a 48 percent increase to pay for an experiment.
Mississippi Power says that the huge upfront costs to ratepayers’ pocketbooks ($2.7 billion) would be justified in the long-run because this plant will use relatively cheap and abundant lignite coal. This claim completely ignores the fact that there may be no long-run for the Kemper experiment.
The Department of Energy (DOE), which is providing hundreds of millions of dollars to Mississippi Power Corporation for Kemper, is requiring a four-and-a-half-year “Demonstration Period” for the project to determine if the experimental technology to capture carbon dioxide will even work on a large commercial scale. The DOE freely admits that “an unsuccessful demonstration remains a possible outcome.” If the Kemper experiment fails, the DOE predicts that the plant would likely be converted to a natural gas-fired plant. For this reason, state and federal regulators have only approved the lignite coal mine’s environmental permits for the four-and-a-half-year demonstration period — clearly acknowledging that this is just a trial project.
The Gulf Restoration Network has been working diligently with the State of Mississippi and the Army Corps of Engineers on limiting the enormous harm that the lignite mine will do to Mississippi’s waters and wetlands. Surface coal mines are very damaging to land and have been shown to contaminate fresh surface water and groundwater. We have been assured that the environmental permits allowing the mine to open are only for four-and-a-half years. If the Kemper experiment is successful, the mine will have to reapply for their environmental permits with the State and the Federal government in order to continue.
The Kemper coal plant is not a normal power plant. Kemper is a hugely expensive test. The massive bulk of the cost (90 percent) of the proposed coal plant is for construction. A comparable natural gas plant is a fraction of the cost to build. There is a very real chance that the Kemper coal plant will fail its test and be converted to a natural gas plant. This is a risky gamble that Mississippi’s utility customers are being forced to take.
It is clear that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has not taken into account the serious risks of failure for this experimental coal plant. Considering the rates could increase 30-48 percent with a successful demonstration, how much will rates go up if the experiment fails, and how will that impact Mississippi’s economy?
Casey DeMoss Roberts, MSPH
Assistant Director of Science and Water Policy
Gulf Restoration Network