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Completion of the power plant in Kemper County was more than three years behind schedule.

Kemper moving toward coal startup

Cecil Brown

Cecil Brown

By JACK WEATHERLY 

Mississippi Power Co.’s Kemper County power plant has no major regulatory hurdles to clear till it says it is ready to start producing electricity at its first-of-its-kind plant.

That observation was one of several made Monday at Stennis Institute luncheon at the Capital Club in downtown Jackson by Cecil Brown, who represents the central district of the Mississippi Public Service Commission.

The commission was to hold a working meeting Thursday at 10 a.m. at the agency’s hearing room on the first floor of the Woolfolk Building in Jackson with a private firm that has been monitoring progress at the plant, Brown said.

Brown raised the topic of safety at the plant. Asked what he meant by that, he said that there is a possibility there could be an explosion.

The power plant which has a proprietary technology that will convert lignite, a low-grade coal, into what the company calls syngas. The plant will use ignite mined from a deposit it owns nearby.

Mississippiwatchdog.org reported this week that “if the refractory coating on the gasifier fails, according to a report filed by an independent monitor in 2014, the 2,800-degree gas stream could burn through the gasifier’s metal shell and cause a possible explosion.”

Brown, a Democrat who was elected to the position in November, said later that “experts” had told him that an explosion was a possiblity.

Jeff Shepard, Mississippi Power spokesman, said in an email response that “we are incredibly proud of the safety performance at the Kemper County energy facility. In fact, there have been zero recordable accidents involving Mississippi Power employees on the operations side of the facility since 2010.”

The monitor that was to have met with the commissioners on Thursday, AECOM, is not the monitor mentioned in the 2014 report.

The cost of the plant’s construction and technology has nearly tripled as problems have arisen, throwing it far behind schedule.

It has been operating on natural gas since August 2014, but the company says it has no plans to continue that even though the price of natural gas has remained very low

The plant is designed to save money for Mississippi Power customers, even though the total cost of the building it is between $6.7 billion and $7 billion, Brown said, compared with an an initial projection of $2.9 billion.

“Mississippi Power estimates the total cost to finish the Kemper County energy facility to be approximately $6.6 billion,” Shepard said.

“Mississippi Power and Southern Company have paid approximately $2.4 billion of this amount resulting in a cost eligible for recovery [from customers] of approximately $4.2 billion.”

The plant is running about two years behind schedule.

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