By Louis Miller

The Mississippi Sierra Club, AFL-CIO and NAACP strongly oppose Mississippi Power Company’s (MPCO) proposal to build a $2.4 billion dollar ‘clean coal’ plant and adjoining mine in Kemper County.

Mississippi Power’s arguments for the plant are built on three myths that have little or no basis in fact.

The truth is that the Kemper coal plant: 1. is unnecessary; 2. is astronomically expensive and will drive up customer bills; and 3. would be a major polluter.

Let’s start with Myth No. 1. MPCO argues that South Mississippi will run out of electricity if this plant is not built. This is not true. Mississippi currently has independently-owned power plants that can supply almost three times the amount of power the entire state requires at peak times. But MPCO refuses to purchase power from these plants except on rare occasions.

Twelve natural gas-fired power plants sit idle 85 percent of the time but could provide up to 7,993 megawatts of power, according to the Public Service Commission (PSC). MPCO’s proposal would produce less than 600 megawatts of power.

Myth No. 2 is that the plant will not raise the bills of MPCO’s customers. The price tag for the plant is $2.4 billion -- and rising. This represents by far the largest capital expenditure ever put into an electric utility’s customer rate base in the history of our state.

A PSC expert testified this year that if the cost of the Kemper plant were “allowed to be put into rates, then Mississippi Power’s rates would increase substantially as compared to rates of today”

MPCO’s wants consumers to foot the bill for this $2.4 billion plant upfront, even if they never use the electricity. MPCO spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying the state legislature to change state law to allow the cost of this plant to be shifted from stockholders to customers. If this plant makes financial sense, MPCO shareholders should fund it.

Myth No. 3 is that the Kemper coal plant is “clean coal.” MPCO’s proposal involves digging up 45 square miles of Kemper County for strip mining, displacing hundreds of residents while destroying streams and wetlands. Five hundred acres would become a dump for toxic coal ash from the plant. The plant itself would be classified as a major air polluter under the federal Clean Air Act.

MPCO proposes to capture and sell 65 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions from the plant. However, the company does not yet have anyone to buy this carbon dioxide, and until a buyer is secured, MPCO will not commit to this reduction in emissions in its air permit. Alternatively, consumers would bear the cost of disposing of these emissions.

The Kemper plant will also emit up to 63pounds of mercury per year, despite new technologies used. Over time, that’s enough toxic mercury to contaminate thousands of water bodies and millions of pounds of fish. When whole river systems in Mississippi are already so contaminated with mercury that the fish pose a danger to pregnant women, why allow more contamination when there are better alternatives? Just improving efficiency in energy use could prevent the need to expand capacity for years.

The citizens of Mississippi should reject this dirty, expensive and unnecessary coal plant proposal. On October 5th the Mississippi Public Service Commissioners will begin hearings to decide the fate of this proposal. It’s time to say: “Thanks but no thanks,” we can do better.
Miller is Sierra Club Senior Regional Representative, Mississippi.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Mississippi Forum 9/09