This column was co-written by Louie Miller, director of Sierra Club Mississippi.
These three truths became well known to Mississippians put on the hook for the so-called Kemper “clean coal” gasification experiment. Touted as the flagship for the future of coal, and backed by the U.S. Department of Energy and the heavy-hitter utility, Southern Company, what could go wrong? As many predicted from the very beginning, costs soon spiraled out of control; what started out with a $1.8 billion price tag ended up at $7.5 billion plus, giving Kemper the dubious distinction of being the most expensive power plant ever built in the United States.
For comparison, $7.5 billion, which works out to about $40,000 per Mississippi Power customer, could have installed solar panels plus batteries for every one of the utility’s 150,000 residential customers.
Years behind schedule, the plant has yet to run as advertised.
This past week, the newly elected Mississippi Public Service Commission (MPSC) stepped in and “pulled the plug” on Southern Company’s big bet gone bad, putting an end to any further attempts to continue to throw good money after bad.
This bold decision by the MPSC to shut down this eight-year fiasco ends this long-running nightmare for Mississippi families and businesses who faced the burden of debilitating electric rate increases to pay for Southern Companies bad business decisions. The MPSC made good on their pledge to get control of this boondoggle despite tremendous political pressure from the clean coal narrative.
As part of the Sierra Club’s legal challenge of Kemper, we provided the catalyst to pave the way toward a clean energy future for Mississippians. The road to stop Southern Company’s gouging of customers with the Kemper coal plant was long, and Mississippians have fought the misguided attempts to tie their future to an unnecessary, expensive and dirty power plant for more than a decade. In the time that Southern Company fought to maintain the viability of the Kemper coal plant, the country’s energy landscape changed dramatically. Renewable energy is employing hundreds of thousands of workers, and it’s powering millions of homes affordably with prices continuing to drop.
Southern Company and its subsidiary Mississippi Power did a disservice to its customers and to Mississippi by wasting their time and money on the Kemper coal plant boondoggle. Mississippians, however, haven’t missed a beat, and have been fighting hard at the MPSC during this time to expand access to clean energy in Mississippi.
In the last two years, the MPSC adopted net-metering rules for the first time to allow solar customers credit on their electricity bills for power they provide on the grid. Before approving the net-metering plan, customers with solar panels that wanted to sell power back to the grid were being charged an administrative fee of $15.19 a month by Mississippi power. This rule includes a low income incentive to afford all Mississippians the opportunity to invest in a clean energy future.
The Commission’s leadership on renewable energy has further netted a proposal to bring enough Texas wind energy to the state to power thousands of homes and businesses. Approval from the commission on 105 MW utility-scale solar projects in Mississippi Power territory, would not only account for possibly the largest installations in the state when complete but actively replaces fossil fuels and moves Mississippi toward a sustainable clean energy future.
The MPSC has also established an ambitious Energy Efficiency Docket that will help Mississippi residents save energy and save money and move Mississippi forward for energy conservation in Mississippi. Even Mississippi Power has seen the light, having just cut the ribbon on the largest solar complex built to date and with more to come.
The Sierra Club will continue to build upon this momentum to move Mississippi towards a 21st century clean energy economy and remain vigilant to ensure no community has to repeat the mistakes of the Dirty,Expensive, Unnecessary, Kemper boondoggle.