By political columnist Bill Minor
You’d hardly expect to hear a diehard Reagan-era Mississippi Republican sharply criticizing a big utility company for building a costly, unneeded — and experimental — generating plant with endorsement from state GOP leadership.
Well, it has happened. Clarke Reed, of Greenville, pioneer of the state’s modern GOP, has spoken out against the controversial $4 billion lignite-fueled plant being built by Mississippi Power Company in Kemper County. MPC is the subsidiary of the Georgia-based Southern Company.
Reed, 84, both in an interview with Bigger Pie Forum the conservative economic advocacy group, as well as this writer, has broadly implied that not only former Gov. Haley Barbour but the state’s current elected Republican leadership were “duped” by the utility monopoly into throwing their support behind the Kemper plant.
Reed was outraged that the Kemper project would become the “signature” legislation of the first Republican-controlled state executive branch since Reconstruction. “It proves Republicans are for millionaires and don’t give a damn about the state,” Reed told BPF, adding “I think it is a political issue that could be used against us for years.”
The Kemper plant marks the first attempt to use lignite, a soft peat-like form of coal with low combustible quality that underlies a broad area of east-central Mississippi, in the generation of electricity. Using a large volume of water, it is to be converted into synthetic natural gas to fire generators.
Reed asks the same question that many outspoken Kemper critics have asked: “Why spend $4 billion to build a lignite-fueled power plant when you could build a natural gas plant for $800 million? It’s totally foolish. We’re going to have more natural gas down here than we’ll ever need.” The Greenville businessman added the argument of lignite proponents that natural gas is more expensive to use has been demolished by new technology to extract the gas from shale formations which he called a “game changer … there’s no way natural gas (price) is going to spike up.”