Sierra Club once again appeals Kemper coal project ruling

The Sierra Club said April 26 that it has appealed the Mississippi Public Service Commission’s April 24 re-approval of the Kemper County integrated gasification combined cycle power plant, currently being built by the Mississippi Power unit of Southern Co. (NYSE: SO).

The Sierra Club claimed that in a four-minute meeting on April 24, commissioners Leonard Bentz and Lynn Posey again refused to allow the public or opponents of the plant to speak, and without explanation reversed key findings of their original April and May 2010 orders approving the $2.8bn power plant. The Mississippi Supreme Court in March 15 had found flaws with the commission’s original approval process, forcing the April 24 re-vote.

In the April 24 order, key portions of which were drafted by Mississippi Power for the commission, Bentz and Posey reversed their previous findings and stated that the plant is in the public interest, even if it costs the ratepayers more than Mississippi Power’s estimates, the Sierra Club claimed. While the commissioners did keep the $2.88bn cost cap, they stated that it was not required by law, leaving the door open for Mississippi Power to try to bypass the cap later, the club added.

“There is really no choice but to appeal the latest flip flop,” said Louie Miller, State Director of the Mississippi Sierra Club. “Bentz and Posey’s latest decision basically parrots everything Mississippi Power says. The Kemper plant is already a financial disaster for the ratepayer, and these two just won’t admit it.”

The Sierra Club said it had presented the commission with expert testimony and evidence that natural gas prices, now at historic lows, have rendered Kemper County a disaster for ratepayers before it is built.

In the latest court filing, the Sierra Club has asked the court to let Mississippi Power assume the risk of building the plant while the appeal proceeds. “If Mississippi Power thinks it is such a good idea to build this boondoggle,” said Robert Wiygul, the attorney filing the appeal on behalf of the Sierra Club, “the company should take the risk and build the plant on its own nickel. Instead, Mississippi Power wants the citizens of the coast to take all the risk.”

Bentz, chairman of the commission, said April 24 that the agency continues to find, based on re-examination of the records in this proceeding, that the Kemper County project is the best overall alternative to meet the identified need, which is to provide reliable energy and capacity at a low, stable-fuel price, provided by lignite, for the next several decades. The project, which will use locally-mined lignite as a feedstock, is also known as Plant Ratcliffe. It is a 582-MW project that will sell CO2 byproduct into the enhanced oil recovery market.

“Fundamentally, the order today has not changed from the previous order and decision of the commission to approve the IGCC Kemper plant,” said Bentz in an April 24 statement. “What we did today was clarify our original decision, as requested by the Supreme Court. They asked us for more detail, and we gave it today.” 

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.