The Mississippi Public Service Commission will conduct an open meeting on April 24, with the latest situation with the Kemper County (also known as Ratcliffe) integrated gasification combined cycle power project a leading agenda item.
The Sierra Club lambasted the commission, or at least two of its three members, in an April 17 statement, saying the commission is ready to again “rubber stamp” this Mississippi Power project, which is in construction and to be fueled with lignite from a nearby coal mine.
Mississippi Power is a subsidiary of Southern Co. (NYSE: SO). Kemper County is a 582-MW project that will sell CO2 byproduct into the enhanced oil recovery market.
The PSC gave notice of the April 24 public meeting on the afternoon of April 16, about one hour after a state court formally sent the matter back to the commission, and with only eight days’ notice, the Sierra Club said.
In a unanimous 9-0 ruling, the Mississippi Supreme Court on March 15 revoked a commission approval of the project, saying that the PSC did not supply sufficient evidence to approve the proposed coal plant project. Since that time, the PSC has violated multiple state laws to protect Mississippi Power’s bottom line at the expense of ratepayers, the Sierra Club claimed.
In the two years since the Kemper County IGCC was initially approved, the economics of coal and competing energy sources have changed substantially, the Sierra Club noted. Natural gas prices have fallen to historic lows, making the Kemper County plant even more costly and economically unstable than in 2010, it said. The Sierra Club recently submitted evidence and expert testimony to the commission showing that Kemper has become even worse for the ratepayer since it was approved in 2010, and must be reconsidered.
Immediately after the March 15 Supreme Court ruling, Mississippi Power announced it would continue with construction. Then, on March 27, the commission issued an order requiring Sierra Club and Mississippi Power to submit proposals offering opinions as to why the PSC initially approved the Kemper County coal plant. “Essentially, the PSC was asking Mississippi Power to tell the commission why it approved the coal plant,” the Sierra Club claimed.
Then, with two days of notice on March 30, the PSC held a meeting lasting less than one minute in which commissioners Leonard Bentz and Lynn Posey voted to approve a temporary authorization for the Kemper County coal plant, the Sierra Club said. Commissioner Brandon Presley offered a dissenting opinion chastising his fellow commissioners for supposedly misinterpreting and misapplying the law to authorize the coal plant.
The utility filed an April 3 project update with the commission, saying various parts of the project are well along, including site clearing for the support areas for the Liberty lignite strip mine that will supply the plant with feedstock. The mine will be operated by a unit of North American Coal, which specializes in lignite mining for minemouth power plants.