Blockbuster “Clean Coal” Plant May Permanently Switch to Gas

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

The Trump regime has hyped a so-called "clean coal" power plant in Kemper County, Mississippi that is still under construction, but construction has now been suspended and the plant, which has been pumping natural gas, may switch to gas "indefinitely."

The Kemper plant, which has cost $7.5 billion so far, has been supplying customers with electricity by running on natural gas for three years, but its once-promising carbon capture and coal gasification technology has been $4 billion over budget and three years behind schedule. [...]

Thanks to legislation passed by the Mississippi legislature, Southern has been able to pass along about $800 million of those costs to ratepayers, the company said.

I hadn't considered the enormous cost of simply building a so-called "clean coal" power plant and now that I know what it costs this is quite the boondoggle. $7.5 billion is more than the cost of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, and it isn't even fully operational.

Local taxpayers and ratepayers, if they know what's good for them, should be calling for heads to roll. They could have skipped the "clean coal" fantasy from the beginning and saved themselves billions. Just the cost overrun of $4 billion would be enough to construct several natural gas plants.

  • KPSilver

    I read this blog regularly but it’s not often that i feel compelled to comment. I actually provided some equipment for that plant, so i wanted to correct the record on a couple things. First of all, they didn’t “switch” to gas… the plant was planned as an Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle (IGCC) plant from the start. The combined cycle plant on site has been up and running for several years. The gasification plant is the “clean coal” side, which has yet to be completed. Last I spoke to the owner, they were hoping to start it up in November. Of 2016. This week’s announcement is that they are essentially postponing any further work on the gasification side while the Mississippi Public Service Commission determines whether or not they can continue to pass the costs of this gasification plant on to their customers.

    Secondly, although the sentiment is satisfying, the location was not chosen to “take advantage of Mississippians”. the location was chosen because it is at the mouth of a lignite coal mine, the type of coal used in the gasification process. So there would be be zero transportation costs, which helps make this (in (disastrously wrong) theory) economically feasible.

    don’t get me wrong, it is quite the boondoggle. but i feel it’s important that our team get the facts right, and not join the realm of fake news.

    Bottom line is that “clean” coal is really expensive, not really clean (only removes 65% of particulate emmissions), and with natural gas so cheap no one in their right mind would pursue this technology.

    Then again, natural gas is so cheap because of fracking, which may be even worse for the environment than burning coal, but that’s a whole other story.

  • Draxiar

    It’s better that the plant switched to natural gas but I feel like these people are tinkering with creating a new typewriter at the dawn of the personal computer. Yes I know that gas is the transition fuel off of coal but it’s still not clean…it’s the cleanest of the dirty…and in a decade or so will start to be phased out as well. Meanwhile solar and wind are beating the crap out of fossil in terms of expansion and job creation.

  • Badgerite

    No such thing as clean coal. The pollution and environmental damage run up and down the supply chain and is very concentrated at the plants themselves. This involves slurry ponds where polluted water used in production is stored and particulate air pollution which simply goes everywhere. Coal is crushed and left in large piles. The wind blows and there you go. Coal dust going where ever.

  • muselet

    Advanced coal gasification and carbon capture looked like the way forward a few years ago, and the Kemper County power plant was something of a proof-of-concept project. Turns out, those are harder technologies to productionize than predicted.

    I’m less inclined than others to declare the Kemper plant a boondoggle. If everything had worked as hoped, it would have been a leg up for new technologies (of course, the plant would still have been using one of the filthiest imaginable fuels, but cleaning up emissions from coal is the worst-case scenario); however, that just wasn’t the reality.

    So there’s no misunderstanding, I do agree that the plant cost far too much and the wrong people are on the hook for far too much of the bill.

    Carbon capture and sequestration will likely be vitally important in the near future, since we will almost certainly need to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The lessons learned from Kemper County may help make CCS happen more quickly.

    Or maybe I’m trying too hard to turn lemons into lemonade …


    • Badgerite

      I would go with the latter. Research on technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere would not really require the building of a coal power plant and would probably be done quicker and more efficiently without it.

      • muselet

        I don’t disagree, mostly.

        The thinking here seems to have been to build a clean—actually clean, not just less filthy—coal-fired plant using the best new technology. Advanced coal gasification and carbon capture looked like they were on the cusp of becoming commercially viable when the project began. The Obama administration was excited about the potential.

        It was a large-scale experiment that failed (in part because the experiment wasn’t run at smaller scales first).


        • Badgerite

          Just no such thing as “actually clean” coal. And that goes to the actual mining practices as well. Pollution and environmental damage doesn’t just happen at the coal plant. There are just better, more efficient and sustainable technologies out there that provide far more promise than anything having to do with coal. And there is where the money should be going. In fact, solar has surpassed fossil fuels in terms of world wide investment in new facilities. And that is for a reason.

  • Mississippians are exactly the kind of people Trump and his ilk seek to take advantage of. And that’s why this boondoggle happened there and why the majority of the people affected by it are pretty much unaware of what’s going on. So don’t hold your breath expecting them to get mad about it. Even if they did know, they’d support it in principle because it’s all about #MAGA.