Proposed in 2006, Southern Company’s (“Southern”) Kemper County Power Generation Facility (“Kemper”) was initially viewed as a flagship demonstration project for “clean coal” technologies like carbon capture and sequestration (“CCS”). Eleven years on, Southern has announced it is “immediately suspending start-up and operations activities” on the gasifier units and the facility “will continue to operate using natural gas pending the Mississippi Public Service Commission’s decision on future operations.”
The 582 MW plant was designed to convert lignite coal into a synthetic gas with a CCS system capturing more than half of the emissions. Since 2012 however, Kemper has faced years of cost-overruns and construction delays. In response, regulators passed a motion in June directing Kemper to operate as a combined-cycle natural gas plant. The motion also ordered the removal of risk from ratepayers for the “lignite coal gasifier and related assets”.
Ongoing issues with Kemper continue to raise concerns regarding the viability of “clean coal” branded technologies like CCS as well as why captive ratepayers should bear financial responsibility for rate-based technologies with no guarantee of success. In 2014, Mississippi enacted legislation to pass on $800 million of Southern’s costs to state ratepayers. Total costs for the facility have reached almost $7 billion, more than double the projected budget. In addition, U.S. taxpayers have also borne costs for Kemper since the Department of Energy (DOE) provided $382 million in grants for construction of the facility.
Despite Kemper’s problems, Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, continued promoting “clean coal” as part of an “all of the above” strategy during the Energy Information Administration’s conference in June. In his remarks, Perry cited the Texas based Petra Nova coal plant, which was successfully retrofitted with CCS technology in 2017.