Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Major Blow to 'Clean Coal' as 11- Year, $7.5 Billion Flagship Project Fails

Popular
Major Blow to 'Clean Coal' as 11- Year, $7.5 Billion Flagship Project Fails
Wikimedia

By Sharon Kelly

In a major blow to proponents of "clean coal" technology, Southern Co., parent company of Mississippi Power, announced in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Wednesday that it's throwing in the towel on efforts to generate electricity from coal and will instead use only natural gas at its flagship Kemper County, Mississippi power plant.


The project, which relied on a "gasifier" to turn a cheap and common grade of coal into fuel, is over, at least for now, Southern said.

"On June 28, 2017, Mississippi Power notified the Mississippi PSC that it is beginning a process to suspend operations and start-up activities on the gasifier portion of the Kemper IGCC."

Further, Southern warned that it may record a $3.4 billion loss for the project in the second quarter of 2017, depending on how negotiations with state utility regulators unfold.

If "Mississippi Power does not ultimately obtain rate recovery of the $3.4 billion … , Southern Company and Mississippi Power would be required to recognize a charge to income in the second quarter of 2017 for those unrecovered costs, in addition to any other costs required to be incurred," the SEC filing says.

The filing comes on the heels of a historic vote by Mississippi's state regulators that rejected asking the 187,000 customers who may get electricity from Kemper to pay for the long-delayed and far over-budget "clean coal" experiment. The 582-megawatt plant, initially projected to cost $1.8 billion, has so far run up a bill of more than $7.5 billion in construction and engineering expenses. In comparison, a typical 700-megawatt natural gas plant would have cost roughly $700 million to build, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Earlier this month, Southern told investors that vital machinery for the coal-powered section of the plant had started leaking, and would take 18 to 24 months to repair.

Mississippi Power Co. still plans to try to recover some or all of the $3.4 billion from power customers, Southern Co. said in its SEC filing. The company will pursue that through settlement negotiations and "any available settlement alternatives" and other options to recover its costs.

The state regulators have been gearing up for the potential legal battle, expanding their legal budget from $200,000 to up to $2.5 million and hiring two large law firms with experience in utilities law, as the Climate Investigations Center recently reported.

"The ultimate outcome of these matters cannot be determined at this time," Southern Co. said in its 8-K filed Wednesday.

Over a Decade of Delays

Kemper was supposed to be the nation's first "clean coal" power plant, capable of taking the world's dirtiest but most abundant kind of coal, lignite coal, and turning it into a dirt-cheap fuel providing electricity while churning out roughly the same carbon emissions as a power plant burning natural gas—a plus for the power bill as well as the planet.

Plans for the Kemper project were first announced by Southern Co. in December, 2006. Over a decade later, the power plant is still not fully up and running and its price tag has spiked from $1.8 billion then to $7.5 billion now—making it one of the most expensive power plants per megawatt ever built in the U.S.

Earlier this month, Mississippi officials sent a clear message to the plant's builders: when it comes to "clean coal," we're not buying what you're selling any more.

"Mississippians don't want to pay for a ticket on a plane that isn't going to fly," Paul Patterson, a utilities investment analyst, told the Wall Street Journal.

Instead, the Kemper power plant "should operate using only natural gas," the Mississippi Public Service Commission announced, adding that it was commencing negotiations with Mississippi Power Co. to figure out how to protect the state's electricity customers from having to pay for a plant that seems to have been better at burning through capital than coal.

In its SEC filing Wednesday, Southern Co. said that while the "clean coal" portion of the plant is suspended, Kemper will indeed keep running on natural gas, but added that it planned to dispute some of the $3.4 billion in costs—meaning that legal battles may be only just beginning.

"We are committed to ensuring the ongoing focus and safety of employees while we consider the future of the project, including any possible actions that may be taken by the [Mississippi Public Service] Commission," Southern Company Chairman, President and CEO Thomas A. Fanning said in a statement. "We believe this decision is in the best interests of our employees, customers, investors and all other stakeholders."

The Kemper project has suffered from a long string of delays and cost-over runs. The most recent setback, which was made public by Southern on June 5, will require builders to rip through a dense labyrinth of steel pipes to replace crucial equipment that's already started leaking, adding up to two years of additional work at a cost of $164 million.

Company records, recorded phone calls and other testimony provided to the New York Times last year by a whistleblower showed Southern Co. officials may have deceived investors and the public by knowingly concealing problems along the way. Last May, the Securities and Exchange Commission launched an investigation into those concerns.

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

This image of the Santa Monica Mountains in California shows how a north-facing slope (left) can be covered in white-blooming hoaryleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus crassifolius), while the south-facing slope (right) is much less sparsely covered in a completely different plant. Noah Elhardt / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.5

By Mark Mancini

If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.

Read More Show Less
Flames from the Lake Fire burn on a hillside near a fire truck and other vehicles on Aug. 12, 2020 in Lake Hughes, California. Mario Tama / Getty Images

An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.

Read More Show Less
Although heat waves rarely get the attention that hurricanes do, they kill far more people per year in the U.S. and abroad. greenaperture / Getty Images

By Jeff Berardelli

Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020

If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.

Read More Show Less

A film by Felix Nuhr.

Thailand has a total population of 5,000 elephants. But of that number, 3,000 live in captivity, carrying tourists on their backs and offering photo opportunities made for social media.

Read More Show Less
Scientists have found a way to use bricks as batteries, meaning that buildings may one day be used to store and generate power. Public Domain Pictures

One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.

Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.

The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.

The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.

If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.

The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.

"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.

"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."

Aerial view of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Gamboa, Panama, where a new soil study was held, on Sept. 11, 2019. LUIS ACOSTA / AFP via Getty Images

One of the concerns about a warming planet is the feedback loop that will emerge. That is, as the planet warms, it will melt permafrost, which will release trapped carbon and lead to more warming and more melting. Now, a new study has shown that the feedback loop won't only happen in the nether regions of the north and south, but in the tropics as well, according to a new paper in Nature.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods speaks during a press conference after a shooting at Forest High School on April 20, 2018 in Ocala, Florida. Gerardo Mora / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

A sheriff in Florida is under fire for deciding Tuesday to ban his deputies from wearing face masks while on the job—ignoring the advice of public health experts about the safety measures that everyone should take during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the rising Covid-19 death toll in his county and state.

Read More Show Less