Just another Network site

In Blow to ‘Clean Coal,’ Flawed Plant Will Burn Gas Instead

  • The Southern Company on Wednesday effectively gave up on an ambitious “clean coal” project, announcing that a flawed coal-fired power plant in central Mississippi would now burn natural gas instead.
  • The Kemper County plant, built to take advantage of a strip coal mine next door, was three years behind schedule and, at a cost of about $7.5 billion, $4 billion over its projected budget.
  • Last week, the Mississippi Public Service Commission issued an ultimatum about the troubled project, setting a deadline of July 6 to begin negotiations on its future and recommending that it run on natural gas.
  • The lignite coal that is mined adjacent to the Kemper County plant emits more climate-warming carbon dioxide per unit of heat than other coal, and far more than natural gas.
  • A typical coal plant produces about three million tons of the gas per year.

Southern Company built its plant in Mississippi to show how coal could be burned with fewer carbon emissions. But it never worked as designed.

@rcpopple: $7 billion (!) burned on “Clean Coal” vaporware. Could’ve funded 5 – 10 Gigawatts of utility scale solar.

The Southern Company on Wednesday effectively gave up on an ambitious “clean coal” project, announcing that a flawed coal-fired power plant in central Mississippi would now burn natural gas instead.

The Kemper County plant, built to take advantage of a strip coal mine next door, was three years behind schedule and, at a cost of about $7.5 billion, $4 billion over its projected budget. Equipment meant to turn the coal into gas and remove at least two-thirds of the carbon dioxide from it to keep it out of the atmosphere never worked as designed.

Last week, the Mississippi Public Service Commission issued an ultimatum about the troubled project, setting a deadline of July 6 to begin negotiations on its future and recommending that it run on natural gas. The commission had proposed that most of the billions of dollars in losses from the plant be absorbed by shareholders, not by electricity ratepayers.

The lignite coal that is mined adjacent to the Kemper County plant emits more climate-warming carbon dioxide per unit of heat than other coal, and far more than natural gas. Southern had intended the plant to demonstrate how even the dirtiest coal could be cleaned up. But in their statement last week, the state regulators referred to it as “unproven technology” that put shareholders and customers at financial risk.

The plant has been running on gas for most of the past three years as engineers tried to get the gasifying equipment to work properly. In all, only a tiny amount of carbon dioxide — about 92,000 tons — has been captured. A typical coal plant produces about three million tons of the gas per year.

In a statement, Southern’s chief executive, Thomas A. Fanning, said the decision to end coal operations was in the best interest of employees, customers and investors. “We are committed to ensuring the ongoing focus and safety of employees while we consider the future of the project, including any possible actions that may be taken by the commission,” Mr. Fanning said, referring to state regulators.

The plant and Southern were the subject of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, as detailed by The New York Times in 2016. Ratepayers also sued the company, saying the utility had defrauded them.

But officials with Southern and a subsidiary, Mississippi Power, as well as federal energy officials, had defended the project in recent years, saying that expanding costs and construction schedules were inevitable with such a cutting-edge project.

In Blow to ‘Clean Coal,’ Flawed Plant Will Burn Gas Instead