Home » OPINION » Columns » DAVID DALLAS — The dirt on Kemper Coal

DAVID DALLAS — The dirt on Kemper Coal

David Dallas

David Dallas

The State Supreme Court has told Mississippi Power and its parent Southern Company to refund money to almost 200,000 customers. The state’s Public Service Commission had given Southern Company permission to start increasing rates on customers in an effort to pay off what is easily the most expensive boondoggle in Mississippi history.

Public Service Commission Chairman Lynn Posey of Union, along with Commissioner Steve Renfro of Moss Point, and to a lesser extent, Commissioner Brandon Presley of Nettleton have looked like the Three Stooges in what is now the Kemper County Coal Plant Comedy Show. It should be mentioned that Commissioner Presley has always voted against the two Republican members of this tripped out and tripped up triumvirate. That’s right, the only person voting like a fiscal conservative on the Public Service Commission has been a Democrat. That should tell you how bad things have gotten and just who the heck runs this show.

Initially, even before Renfro was there, there were the original Big Three of Leonard Bentz, Posey, and Presley and they were played as the Three Blind Mice. They willingly rubber stamped what was initially sold as a $2 Billion project by the real director of this farce, our former Governor… let’s just call him He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

» READ MORE: Supreme Court says PSC blew it on Kemper power plant, orders refund

See, there’s been a lot of Harry-Potter-style wizardry going on around here in the magical world of Mississippi “Clean” Coal. So much so, Mississippians will need a life supply of polyjuice potion to keep from suffocating under the weight of this mess.

He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had plenty of accomplices, like then-Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant (a.k.a. He-Who-Can-Not-Be-Shamed). In a highly irregular move, Bryant officially met with the PSC to pressure them to support the Kemper fiasco. Other accomplices included the Republican-controlled State Senate and the energy-contribution-hungry dopes and fiends in the Mississippi House.

But it didn’t stop at our borders. No. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named used his Washington D.C. lobbyist magic to have Barack Obama’s Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, also send a letter pressuring the PSC to support the Kemper Plant. Nobody understands how the U.S. Department of Energy is the Ministry of Magic for the Fossil Fuel industry any better than You-Know-Who.

He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named planned all of this back in 2008 and bullied the legislature into passing a bill to repeal a Mississippi state law prohibiting pay for services before the benefit. He needed the law repealed for the sole purpose of paving the way for the Kemper County Coal Plant.

The son of He-Who-Must-Not-Named was a registered lobbyist for the Southern Company while his father served as Governor. Mississippi Power CEO at the time, Anthony Topazi, was also the President of the Mississippi Economic Council. Along with other powerful political allies, they painted anyone who criticized the effort as anti-business.

They went even further providing tax incentives and credits to build a plant no one is willing to guarantee can actually provide the energy promised. Engineers from Southern Company admitted to MBJ editorial staff and probably to the Public Service Commission (assuming the PSC bothered to ask) that when the coal plant is finished and they flip the switch, there is a chance it might not work.

And what if it doesn’t? They’ll just spend more money until they get it right or trash the whole project.

There are also questions about safety and the future costs associated with the plant, like “How do you make thousands of tons of ash resulting from the production of ‘clean’ coal just magically disappear?” More money, of course.

Unfortunately, no one bothered to ask these questions back in 2008, when someone might have pointed out that you could have spent less money and effort in support of a natural gas plant.

If the Kemper Plant was such a good idea, why were they not able to get the Feds to fund it? Senator Cochran has always been able to bring home the bacon. Better yet, if this were such a good investment, why not go to Wall Street for investors?

Because it was a crooked and deceitful operation to begin with. Legal? Perhaps. Ethical? Less so. Good for Mississippi? Don’t bet on it. Good for crony capitalists cozy with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? Bet the farm. Heck, bet Hogwarts and J.K Rowling’s estate while you’re at it.

Each member of the Public Service Commission now understands how they were played for fools, even the two Republicans obligated to carry the dirty water for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Their vote to increase customer rates was only an attempt to mitigate the problem. They knew enormous cost overruns were coming and thought it would be better to have a large increase now than have customers hit with astronomical increases down the road.

How does Southern Company explain its inability to account for over $4 billion – let’s repeat that, Four Billion Dollars – in cost overruns? They should be out of business. But, they are making money and will continue to do so, with support from our state leaders. The Supreme Court may have given Southern Company a temporary setback, but they will eventually milk their customers for the money. Give them time. We certainly have up to this point. Time and lots and lots of money.

$6.2 billion is the cost today and still rising. Don’t be surprised if the final price tag ends up being close to $10 billion or more. So there’s a group of people that will magically be making tons of money, including You-Know-Who, while the tax payers and energy customers of Mississippi play the poor, clueless muggles.

Back when a $55 million beef plant scandal broke, Mississippi talk radio and opinion pieces in every state newspaper burned with justified indignation. Today, that beef plant under new ownership is now fully operational, employs nearly 500 Mississippians, and all of the money owed has been recovered and repaid. And a few unsavory characters were rightfully convicted and sent to jail.

Since He-Must-Not-Be-Named cast his Kemper County Coal Plant spell on the state, there has been nary a peep from the state-wide media his cronies control. Even out of office, he still manipulates political life and discourse in our state. Consider it the Everlasting Curse of Lord Barbour-mort.

» David Dallas is a political writer. He worked for former U.S. Sen. John Stennis and authored Barking Dawgs and A Gentleman from Mississippi.


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  1. Wow, with 20/20 foresight like this, maybe Dallass should be a PSCommissioner. After all, any idiot can do it.

  2. This post leaves the impression that Commissioner Presley voted for the plant, or at a minimum did not ask the right questions about it. In fact, Commissioner Presley actively questioned the plant, voted against granting a certificate for the plant, and voted against rate increases associated with the plant. His dissents to the decisions were detailed and articulated exactly the risks that proved to be inherent in the plant.

  3. Outstanding article David. Puts in words clearly the pieces some of us have been able to do following this boondoggle over the past 4-5 years.

  4. Dallas says in this column … It should be mentioned that Commissioner Presley has always voted against the two Republican members of this tripped out and tripped up triumvirate. That’s right, the only person voting like a fiscal conservative on the Public Service Commission has been a Democrat. That should tell you how bad things have gotten and just who the heck runs this show.

  5. Martin K Keene

    Who knew? Every politician in the state, that’s who.Let’s introduce a bill to memorialize the person primarily responsible for this “boondoggle”. Haley Barbour, that’s who!

  6. Beef Plant paid back???

    What in the world is he talking about regarding the beef plant paid back. That has to be wrong. The bank owned it last I heard and good for them if they got someone to buy it and have it operational, but we’re never seeing that money again.

  7. Memphis Belle

    This is an otherwise good article, but good question regarding the beef plant. He obviously got that wrong, but it still doesn’t invalidate the rest of his points!

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