Saturday, July 28, 2012

Think the Beef Plant was a disaster? Wait until you get a load of this

For years now, Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley (D) has been leading a fight against the construction of the lignite coal Kemper County by Mississippi Power. Presley had some pretty powerful enemies in this fight, with both then-Gov. Haley Barbour (R) and then-Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) leading the charge for the plant's construction. It's not that Presley hates coal, or is anti-energy. It's that he's firmly against fleecing the ratepayers of Mississippi. Which is, of course, exactly what is now happening.

Here's some background: Mississippi has fairly large quantities of lignite coal. As far as coal goes, lignite ain't good for much. But a new, untested technology hopes to change that. The idea is that rather than burning the lignite, it is gasified instead to produce energy to harness and send down transmission lines to ratepayers. Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of the Southern Company, started throwing its political weight around to get the Public Service Commission to allow them to raise rates to fund the construction of a lignite plant in Kemper County. And it worked, and the rates for Mississippi Power customers went up.

But on the road to cheap energy paradise, things went very predictably haywire.

To begin with, the process behind the gasification of the lignite has never been functional at the level Mississippi Power wanted everyone to believe. When Presley pointed this fact out, he was drowned out by the lobbying money being tossed around by Mississippi Power and the Southern Company. Then came the cost overruns, which have hit staggeringly high numbers, and will be borne by none other than Mississippi Power customers. Presley warned about that, too, but again, no one would listen.

To date, the cost overruns on the incomplete plant are about one billion dollars. And the poor folks of southeast Mississippi are the ones who are going to have to foot the bill for it, since no one would listen to Commissioner Presley. Well, now folks in the Republican Party may finally be seeing the light. Wyatt Emmerich, noted Republican newspaper man, penned an editorial explaining the fiasco Friday. It's a very well-written article and provides an indispensable synopsis of the history behind the Kemper County plant. He also has a wealth of quotes from Presley:
Recently, I talked to Presley. He is in disbelief about this whole project. “Its strange to me that after the Commission recently rectified the plant to go forward, Mississippi Power just happened to then find $366 million in cost overruns. Now, the company has found another $56 million in overruns in the last month. So, it now has $422 million in overruns and is only around 30 percent complete,” he said. “To me the analogies here, minus just the pure corruption, with the beef plant are so clear it’s just pitiful. ... The federal stimulus package cost $810,000 per job. The Kemper project cost the customers of Mississippi Power $144 million per job. ... “I don’t know what the end price tag will be. I don’t know if it will produce power in 2014. ... The problem with this thing is that it should never have been let out of the gate in the first place. It’s at least going to end up a 45 percent rate hike.”
Folks, there's a mess brewing in southeast Mississippi, and it was brought to you by nothing but flat-out bought and paid for willful ignorance. Take a minute to read Emmerich's article and get ready for what is likely to be a story you'll be hearing about for a decade.


Reilly said...

Might also want to take a gander at this.

$600 million port of the future? Not so much.

other editorials on Sun Herald's webpage.

Reilly said...

check this out as well, state's own largest economic investment is under review by Gov. Bryant. Barbout's Port of the Future isn't panning out. Local advocates urge change of direction.

James Parker said...

This one has actually been a controversy for a while; but public awareness is materializing at a surprisingly slow rate, thanks in part to sparse press coverage.

Anyway, according to the Sierra Club of Ms., our state already has a dozen natural gas-fired plants (natural gas burns cleaner and is therefore a more efficient fuel) sitting idly by 85% of the time. Each plant produces roughly the same amount of power as the Kemper coal plant.

But what is probably the most eye-opening aspect of this project is the fact that, according to the testimony of a MPC official, this plant and it's experimental technology (at a cost of nearly $3 billion) aren't even guaranteed to become operational when completed -

Nor will Miss. Power guarantee royalties to their ratepayers, whom will take much of the burden of financing this project (which presumably means the ratepayers will not be allowed to recover the costs they paid into building of the plant as well). Ludicrous.

Unknown said...

Let it be noted that there are partisans on both sides of the issue. In opposition are many fiscally sane Republicans. While in favor of the project, The Obama administration joins Haley's gang in support of this monstrosity.