Environmentalists, owner at odds again over Kemper

KEMPER coal plant resister the Sierra Club says a new report shows the planned Mississippi integrated gasification combined-cycle facility is “spiraling out of control”, behind schedule and over budget.

Donna Schmidt

The plant’s owner has responded to the contrary.

Sierra Club officials pointed to an Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis report showing Mississippi Power’s Kemper County coal plant was in “far worse shape” than the company was letting on in its public updates.

“The analysis reveals that the plant, with its untested gasification technology, is behind schedule in both engineering and construction and at less than 50% complete, is likely to see further delays and cost overruns,” the group said.

It also cited the IEEFA’s David Schlissel, who said evidence showed the plant was more expensive and taking “substantially longer” to construct than it and the Public Service Commission had planned.

“Looking at a similar plant in Indiana [Duke Energy’s Edwardsport IGCC], there’s a strong likelihood that Kemper’s costs will continue to rise and delays will continue.”

According to the IEEFA report, the Indiana plant is two years ahead on the planning schedule than Kemper and is more than $US1 billion over budget. It too, the groups said, was well behind schedule.

“The picture is not nearly as rosy as Mississippi Power spokespeople would have the public believe,” Schlissel said.

“The Kemper plant will already be a serious burden for ratepayers and, if trends continue, the financial impacts will be disastrous.”

The Sierra Club noted in a statement that, according to the report’s findings, direct construction costs were 20% higher than Mississippi Power predicted in 2010 when it was being PSC certified. A recent review by the commission’s independent monitor showed concrete work at Kemper was 23 percentage points behind schedule on July 31 and steel work was 10 percentage points behind.

“Sierra Club has fought this dirty, expensive, and unnecessary plant because in the end, Mississippi families and businesses will be forced to shell out, at present, $3.62 billion dollars and rising, to build a plant that is already hundreds of millions over budget and is not guaranteed to work on day one,” Mississippi Sierra Club state director Louie Miller said.

“The commonsense solution is to run Kemper off of natural gas.”

Mississippi Power spokesman Jeff Shepherd told regional newspaper the Sun Herald that the comments were “part of an ongoing campaign by this special interest group and its out-of-state, energy industry opponents” to block the plant’s construction.

He said the lawsuit the Sierra Club had brought against the planned facility was at the center of increased costs for the plant, to the tune of more than $300 million.

“The ratepayers of Mississippi will have the Sierra Club to thank for unnecessary increases that affect customers' bills,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd, who said the environmentalists were misleading the public by estimating the plant’s costs at $2.62 billion, told the newspaper that Mississippi Power would complete and operate the plant while maintaining affordable costs for customers.

“The project is more than 70 per cent complete and on schedule," he said.

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