Miss. high court deals setback to Ratcliffe IGCC project

The Mississippi Supreme Court has dealt a setback to Southern Co. (NYSE:SO) subsidiary Mississippi Power and its plans to build a major coal gasification power plant in Kemper County, Miss.

In a March 15 decision, the Mississippi high court ruled in favor of a legal challenge brought by the Sierra Club against the utility’s proposed $2.88bn Ratcliffe integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power project.

The 580-MW IGCC facility would be fueled by locally-mined lignite coal and much of its carbon dioxide would be captured for use in enhanced oil recovery. Southern hopes to see the power plant completed and in commercial operation in 2014.

In a two-page decision, the state’s highest court found that the Mississippi Public Service Commission had not issued findings that were supported by substantial evidence in sufficient detail.

As a result, the state Supreme Court reversed an earlier affirmation of the project by the Chancery Court of Harrison County.  The case was remanded to the PSC for further proceedings.

“This unanimous ruling demonstrates that the abrupt flip-flop by Commissioners [Leonard] Bentz and [Lynn] Posey was the result of outside pressure, not careful review of evidence,” said Louie Miller, Director of the Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The PSC had previously denied the IGCC application, but one month later, during the tumult of the BP Oil Spill crisis, the PSC reversed its original finding, but failed to provide any reasoning or evidence for the change, the Sierra Club said in a press release. This sudden, unexplained reversal violates Mississippi law, the Sierra Club said.

“We are confident there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Commission’s approval of the Certificate,” a utility spokesperson said March 16. “It is our hope and expectation that the Commission will address this expeditiously,” the company spokesperson added.

The Sierra Club versus the Mississippi Public Service Commission and Mississippi Power is No. 2011-CA-00350-SCT.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.