By JACK WEATHERLY
The saga of the Mississippi Power Co. “clean-coal” plant in Kemper County appears ready for its final chapter to be written on Feb. 6.
The story of the plant, whose original projected cost was $2.9 billion but which swelled to $7.5 billion, will most likely end on that date when the three-member Mississippi Public Service Commission votes on the settlement reached by the company, the independent state Public Utilities Staff, the attorney general and business intervenors.
Commission Chairman Brandon Presley said on Tuesday that the settlement on the plant would mean at least a 2 percent reduction on the current rate for the company’s residential customers.
Early in the project, double-digit increases were projected by various parties.
During the continuing negotiations with the commission, the company had wanted to receive about $126 million in annual revenue from the plant, but agreed to $112.6 million.
Then with the corporate taxation reduced from 35 percent to 21 percent by President Trump, the figure fell to $99.3 million, Presley said.
Mississippi Power Chief Financial Officer Moses Feagin agreed with the latest figure.
The commission will meet Feb. 6 to vote on the matter. The commissioners, including Central District Commissioner Cecil Brown, a Democrat, and the Southern District’s Sam Britton, a Republican, have appeared to be in lockstep with Presley about the matter. Neither man was on panel when it voted 2-1 in 2010 in favor building the plant.
Presley, a Democrat, voted against it. Construction lagged three years behind schedule because of problems with the gasification process.
“Yesterday was to hear any new information,” Presley said of testimony that had been filed with the commission electronically.
There were no substantive changes, including the opposition of Hattiesburg oilman Thomas Blanton, who had strongly opposed the project to start with and had run for the southern district seat, losing to Republican Britton.
Under pressure from the PSC, the utility suspended operation of its gasified-coal generated electricity last summer and continued to produce electricity from natural gas.
The “clean-coal” operation was designed to rely on a cheaper source of energy, but the price of natural gas dropped to historic lows because of advances in production, primarily hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The plant has produced power relying on natural gas since August 2014.
The gasification operation never achieved commercial reliability.
Presley said during the Monday hearing that if the company decided in the future that it wanted to use the syngas process to produce electricity, its customers would not be liable for paying for any of those gasification assets used in production. Feagin told Presley that the company agrees with that stipulation.
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