Will coal plant be clean, affordable?
Regarding the proposed Kemper County IGCC plant, most people are ignoring the debate on the need for a new energy source. Instead, many are worrying about their light bills and questioning the definition of “clean.”
“(The plant) is being built for one thing — to enhance the bottom line of stockholders for the next 40 years,” said Louie Miller, state Sierra Club director. Miller has been outspoken out about his opposition to the plant and attended the Oct. 9 public forum held by the state Public Service Commission.
If the new IGCC and TRIG technologies are the greatest thing since sliced bread, Mississippi Power and Southern Company need to put their money where their mouth is and not peg the costs on the ratepayers, Miller said.
Due to the state Legislature’s Baseload Act passed in the spring 2008, the expense of the plant will fall on the ratepayers, even if the facility should be abandoned and not completed.
Miller said the plant’s $2.2-billion price tag, spread out over the customers of Mississippi Power’s 23-county service area, will result in a rate increase of more than a 100 percent.
Linda St. Martin, self-described community activist from Gulfport, said in her forum testimony that allowing the plant construction would be “eminent domaining the citizens’ checkbook.”
Mississippi Power maintains customers will only feel a 4 or 6 percent increase, followed by a steady rate decrease due to the low costs of the lignite coal as opposed to natural gas. Natural gas is “the most volatile commodity in the world,” said company spokesperson Cindy Duvall in an interview.
Mississippi Power has not released research showing the way it arrived at its rate predictions.
Mississippi Power states on its web site that the new integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology does not directly burn coal. The gasification process instead first breaks the coal down into chemical components, and gases that result from that chemical breakdown that can be used to fuel power plants.
Mississippi Power’s parent company Southern Company, along with its partner, has developed Transport Integrated Gasification (TRIG) technology, which uses low-rank coals, such as the lignite in Kemper County. Low-rank coals have less energy per pound but account for half of worldwide reserves.
Penny Burbank, of the Gulf Coast community activist group the Steps Coalition, said at the forum that although Mississippi Power claims 65 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from the plant will be captured, the company doesn’t yet have a buyer. If no buyer is found, ratepayers will absorb the cost of disposing of it. Burbank also said the plant would release 63 pounds of mercury annually — which is enough to pollute millions of pounds of fish.
Although it doesn’t have one currently, Mississippi Power is sure it will have a buyer for the plant’s carbon dioxide, Duvall said. The plant will be able to avoid the potential cost of carbon taxes, she said, and the U.S. Department of Energy has certified the potential Kemper County facility as a “clean” project.
Duvall also said the company performed a hazardous air pollutant emissions study, which was designed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and included a mercury assessment. The study’s results showed that no project emissions would result in a human health risk due to inhalation.
Clean coal is “an ad man’s version of reality,” Miller said, and “15 billion pounds of carbon dioxide coming out annually is not clean.”
By AMY McCullough I STAFF WRITER
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