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Judge to rule on release of Kemper power plant data

KemperCoIGCCMove-002_rgbKEMPER COUNTY — A judge will sort out which records about Mississippi Power Co.’s Kemper County power plant should be released to a group that opposes the plant.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Hinds County Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas should release information sought by the Bigger Pie Forum, while withholding other information about the $5 billion complex that Mississippi Power wants kept secret.

“Bigger Pie is entitled to the January 2009 natural gas price forecasts and (carbon dioxide) price assumptions,” Presiding Justice Michael Randolph wrote in a unanimous opinion.

Bigger Pie, which opposes Kemper, has long questioned whether Mississippi Power gave inflated forecasts about the price of natural gas to the Mississippi Public Service Commission. High natural gas forecasts would have made Kemper, which will burn gasified lignite coal, look more economically competitive. Mississippi Power, a unit of the Atlanta-based Southern Co., also plans to sell carbon dioxide, which it will extract from gasified lignite.

“It’s been Bigger Pie’s contention from early on that the Kemper plant, because of its huge upfront cost, was never going to be economic,” Bigger Pie President Ashby Foote said Friday. “If they misled the public service commission in their effort to show Kemper was economic when in fact it wasn’t, you have to question the validity of their certificate to go build the plant.”

Mississippi Power said it would cooperate with the court, but said the ruling didn’t definitively call for the release of any information.

“Thursday’s ruling from the Mississippi Supreme Court makes no determination as to whether any confidential Mississippi Power documents submitted to the Mississippi Public Service Commission should be released,” spokeswoman Natalie Campen wrote in an email.

In 2012, Thomas ruled Mississippi Power had to release the documents. The company appealed, and during the appeal Bigger Pie discovered that the company had released a natural gas price projection to it and The Wall Street Journal. But Randolph wrote that the projections contained in the documents Mississippi Power wanted kept secret appear to be different. His opinion instructs Thomas to release the natural gas and carbon dioxide price projections, but warns that screening out the information may be so difficult that Thomas may need to appoint an expert to do so.

Bigger Pie hopes to get the information released before the Public Service Commission holds hearings in May that will determine whether Mississippi Power’s spending on Kemper has been legally prudent. Bigger Pie lawyer Robert Wise said evidence of inflated projections could help opponents argue that Kemper has been imprudent all along.

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