By Steve Wilson / August 18, 2014 / Mississippi Watchdog.org
The battle over Mississippi Power’s Kemper Project $5.53 billion first of its kind “clean coal” power plant has been waged in the hearing room at the Public Service Commission and in the Mississippi Supreme Court.
It’s a battle that might have been avoided had the company opted for a cheaper natural gas plant, a fuel that is now powering Kemper’s three turbines in a move announced last week.
But now the fight over the power plant in west-central Mississippi is taking a toll a soccer field in South Mississippi.
The city of Ocean Springs, which saw an 18 percent rate increase by Mississippi Power to pay for the Kemper County power plant’s mounting costs, wants users of the Freedom Field to pay an extra fee or face having the lights shut off, permanently.
Spencer Buskirk, whose soccer group was approached by the city a month ago, said it isn’t just soccer fans who could have been hurt by the fee.
“There has been a lot of focus on our group because I have been very vocal about the issue,” Buskirk said. “But this affects the entire community. This field is used by a lot of groups and individuals. There is a walking track and small workout area at this park, also.”
Three local businesses stepped up to pay to keep the lights on, but it’s evidence the added power costs imposed on South Mississippi are taking a toll.
The Ocean Springs Parks and Leisure Department is $7,000 off the mark on its power budget, and that could jump to $36,000 by the end of the year, the Biloxi Sun Herald reported.
In hopes of finding a solution, the Ocean Springs Board of Aldermen, during its meeting Tuesday, is expected to discuss a Mississippi Development Authority grant application to install solar-powered lights at Freedom Field.
Ocean Springs Parks and Leisure Department Director Geri Straight declined to comment. Mayor Connie Moran did not return calls for comment.
The rate increase that Public Service Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley called the “largest transfer of wealth from the people to a corporation in the state of Mississippi’s history” might have even been some unnecessary pain for South Mississippi.
Mississippi Power announced in a news release last week that it had put the Kemper plant’s three turbines, originally designed to be fueled by synthesis gas made from lignite coal mined nearby, into commercial operation fueled instead by natural gas.
Despite the constant claims by Mississippi Power that its plant must run on coal because of the need for “fuel diversity,” the low prices on natural gas make it a losing proposition. While the combined-cycle plant that produces power is a proven technology, the coal gasifier — designed to convert high-moisture lignite goal into synthesis gas and remove 65 percent of the carbon dioxide from the gas stream — won’t be fully tested until later this year.
The Mississippi Public Service Commission has indefinitely postponed prudency hearings, which will determine whether the plant’s costs will be borne by the company and its investors or ratepayers until the plant shows “steady-state operation.”
A Mississippi Power motion to put Kemper’s turbines, running on natural gas, into the rate base was denied. Prudency for the plant’s turbines were spun off with a separate filing to be addressed by the commission at a future date.
The plant is scheduled to open in May 2015, more than a year behind schedule.
Photo Credit: Southern Company