The Kemper County Plant forced to Start Using Natural Gas


Credit: XTUV0010 / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Southern Company and Mississippi Power has made an announcement in the last week that, their clean coal power plant project Kemper County Power Plant in rural Mississippi will be finally turning into a natural gas power plant.

This 582 MW power generation plant was principally designed as a gasification plant, which was to use the dirtiest of coal (lignite) and convert it into syngas (mostly hydrogen). The plant had also installed an advanced amine-based carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) system that would capture more than half of the coal’s carbon emissions. But today, with the failure of this plant, it’s proven that coal-fired power plants being clean in terms of pollution norms are a myth!

The Kemper County plant was expected to be a cutting-edge technology demonstration of the “clean coal,” power generation. Actually, the project commissioning overshot by almost five years and exceeded almost $4 billion over budget. The Kemper plant was able to start its coal gasification operations late last year on trial basis.

The plant was to use a chemical process to break down lignite coal into synthesis gas, or “syngas,” which would then be fed into a generator as this gas would burn cleaner than the lignite coal. In addition to this, emissions would be caught by a carbon capture system and delivered to a nearby oil field to help the oil extraction. Southern and Mississippi Power had claimed this would reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of burning lignite coal by almost 65%. So far, the plant has run only for 200 days of gasification operations and the top officials of Kemper have identified serious issues with the technology, major design flaws that are causing leaks and ash buildup.

Mississippi regulators have pointed out absurd cost overruns by the plant, the delays in bringing the project online and in line with environmental laws of the state. They have instructed the utility to come up with a plan where the plant will burn only natural gas in the future and not “syngas”.

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