Mississippi Power’s Watson coal-to-gas conversion almost completed

Mississippi Power said Feb. 25 that the last barge delivery of coal to the Watson plant has been made, signaling the imminent completion of a coal-to-gas conversion project.

For almost 47 years, tugboats have pushed barges loaded with coal from the Port of Mobile through the Gulf of Mexico to Biloxi Bay and into the canal leading to the 1,012-MW Plant Watson in Gulfport. On Feb. 19, the final coal barge arrived at the plant’s dock.

Mississippi Power, which is a subsidiary of Southern Co. (NYSE: SO), had announced in August 2014 that Plant Watson would begin using natural gas exclusively by April 16, 2015, in order to comply with new federal environmental guidelines. That is the initial compliance date for the federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS).

“This is a milestone for Plant Watson and for Mississippi Power since Watson was the company’s first generating facility to use coal to generate electricity,” said Allen Reaves, vice president of Generation and senior production officer. “Repowering Plant Watson to natural gas has been part of Mississippi Power’s resource planning for some time to ensure we meet or exceed the environmental standards set by state and federal governments.”

He added: “While the conversion to natural gas avoids the expense of adding additional environmental controls to meet new EPA requirements, it does increase the company’s dependence on natural gas as a fuel source as all five units on-site will now be gas-fired. This underscores the importance of the Kemper County energy facility, which will use Mississippi lignite to produce power and help us maintain a diverse fuel mix and more stable prices for our customers.”

The Kemper County coal gasification plant, which went hugely over budget, is curently being brought into full operation.

Mississippi Power had announced last August that it plansto repower, convert to natural gas, or retire several units at plants Watson, Sweatt and Greene County. Under this announced plan:

  • Mississippi Power would no longer use coal at Plant Watson by converting its two remaining coal-fired units to natural gas no later than April 16, 2015. The plant already has three units that operate on natural gas.
  • At Plant Sweatt, the company commits to retire two of the existing natural gas-fired units, and repower with more advanced technology or convert to an alternative non-fossil-fuel source by no later than Dec. 31, 2018.
  • And at Plant Greene County in Alabama, which is co-owned with another Southern Co. utility, Mississippi Power will cease coal operations and convert two units to natural gas no later than April 16, 2016.
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.