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View of plant facing west at sunset.

ALAN TURNER: Kemper coal plant essentially complete

We had an opportunity recently to visit with Lee Youngblood, who handles communications for Mississippi Power Co., and learned that the Kemper facility is essentially complete and ready for final testing and certification.

Lee Youngblood

Lee Youngblood

“Once that’s done, we expect to see the facility up and running and doing what it’s supposed to do, by early 2016,” he said.

Earlier in his career, Lee worked for Trent Lott and the MDA, and it’s probably safe to say he’s no stranger to controversial political issues. As just about anyone who has lived in Mississippi during the past few years knows, Kemper has certainly generated its share of controversy, beginning with environmental challenges and then proceeding to the problems associated with significant cost overruns, including the recent Mississippi court ruling on the rate capture.

Regardless of those issues, however, Mississippi Power and its parent, the Southern Co., stand by the technology and long-term viability of the Kemper plant.

“For many years, the dialogue in this country has revolved around the importance of fuel diversification,” Lee told us. “We all know the danger of putting all our eggs in one basket. Kemper is the epitome of what fuel diversification is all about.”

» READ MORE: ALAN TURNER — Kemper: A bird’s eye view

From the company’s perspective, the technology for clean energy represented by the Kemper project is cutting edge, but proven, as the company has other facilities making use of that technology.

“This will certainly represent one of the cleanest plants in the region,” he said. “it makes good and efficient use of existing resources, and does so in a way that does not harm the environment.”

One of the stronger points Lee makes in favor of the Kemper facility is the essential fuel cost stability of the plant.

“You can certainly look at the volatility of energy prices in recent years as a good reason to make use of an abundant and stable resource,” he said, pointing to the fluctuations in the cost of oil and natural gas in recent years. He sees continued volatility in those costs as pretty much a given.

“On the other hand, we have our own excellent supply of lignite right on site,” he said. “That means generally stable cost for us, and in the long term, it will mean a great deal for our ratepayers.”

That long-term perspective is what the company is all about. As they see it, Kemper is probably a “40 or 50” year proposition that will use only a small fraction of the available lignite. According to Lee, the plant will consume approximately 180 million tons out of 4 billion available tons at the site.

“This is a very efficient way to produce energy,” he said. He points to the fact that countries and companies from all over the world have visited Kemper to learn about the technology it employs, and also points to good support from the Department of Energy for the project.

“In particular, the Chinese are very interested in this project, because they’re looking for an abundant, clean energy technology that can help them reduce their own levels of pollution,” he said.

From the company’s perspective, it’s vital to look at multiple technologies and options as they look to Mississippi’s—and America’s—future.

“We’re also heavily invested in wind, solar, and hydro,” he said. “These are clean sources of energy, but they’re never going to produce all of the energy we need. We’re also developing the first new nuclear facility in over 30 years.” That would certainly seem to support the company’s commitment to developing diversified energy sources.

“Obviously, a lot of the focus in the past few years for Kemper has been the cost, versus the long-term benefits and advantages. Now we are finally at a point where we’re confident that we can start proving those benefits.”

Lee invited us to visit Kemper and see the facility for ourselves, which we are planning to do, and we’ll share our field observations in a subsequent article.

A brief video interview with Lee can be seen on our website, MSBusiness.com, or on our YouTube channel, mbjournal.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021.

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