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Kemper county coal plant reaches construction milestone, as court hearing approaches

Mississippi Power Co. announced a construction milestone for its Kemper County coal plant Thursday, one day before opponents have another day in court as part of their challenge to it.

A section of the facility’s gasifier – the piece of equipment that will covert lignite coal into the synthesis gas that will be used to produce electricity – has been installed. According to a MPC press release, construction on the project is nearing the halfway point. Commercial operation is scheduled to start in May 2014.

Friday morning in Gulfport, lawyers for the Sierra Club will appear in front of a Harrison County chancellor to argue that the second certificate the Mississippi Public Service Commission issued for the plant is invalid. The environmental group challenged the reissued certificate almost immediately after it was issued in April.

A new certificate for the plant became necessary March 15, when the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled the first certificate did not cite sufficient evidence from the record of proceedings.

The Sierra Club has long opposed the $2.88 billion Kemper facility, calling it an expensive and unnecessary hazard to the environment.

It’s possible that at the conclusion of Friday’s hearing, the presiding judge will issue a ruling. It’s more likely, though, that a written ruling will be handed down a few weeks or a couple months afterward. It’s almost a guarantee that whoever the judge rules against – either MPC or the Sierra Club – will appeal to the state supreme court.

Whenever that court has its say on the matter is when the PSC will again entertain rate increase requests related to the plant. Earlier this summer, commissioners ruled 3-0 to deny a proposed 13 percent rate hike that would have generated about $58 million. Commissioners said then that they would not hear any requests for rate increases until the supreme court had ruled on the pending litigation.

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