* Commission says delaying plant not in public interest
* Utility has spent more than $1.1 billion so far
* Opponents argued there abundant natural gas
March 30 Mississippi utility regulators on
Friday issued a temporary certificate to allow a unit of
Southern Co to continue building an $2.8 billion
coal-gasification power plant in the state despite a court
ruling that overturned the existing certificate issued in 2010.
With only two days meeting notice and no discussion, the
Mississippi Public Service Commission voted 2-1 to allow
Southern Co's smallest utility, Mississippi Power, to keep
building the 582-megawatt integrated gasification combined-cycle
(IGCC) power plant in Kemper County, according to the commission
order obtained by Reuters.
The order, supported by commissioner chairman Leonard Bentz
and commissioner Lynn Posey, stated that the halting the project
would lead to "unnecessary costs" that would cause substantial
injury to the utility and its customers.
"The commission finds that avoiding unnecessary costs is in
the public interest; and that allowing the Kemper Project to
proceed at this stage serves the public interest," the order
Commissioner Brandon Presley who has consistently opposed
the Kemper project for its high price tag and untried technology
called the action to issue a temporary certificate "squarely
contrary to state law."
In a dissenting opinion, Presley said the order "totally
misinterprets" the state statute "to Mississippi Power's
advantage and to the detriment of MPC's customers."
"It's an absolute bailout of Mississippi Power," said Louie
Miller, director of the Sierra Club in Mississippi which
successfully challenged the Kemper certificate in state court.
Miller suggested that Mississippi Power customers would be
better served if the plant were converted to run natural gas
rather than lignite as gas prices have fallen dramatically since
Kemper County was proposed several years ago.
According to state filings, Mississippi Power has spent
more than $1.1 billion on the Kemper County IGCC plant so far.
It is expected to begin producing power in 2014. The utility has
less than 200,000 customers.
The Kemper certificate, issued by the PSC in May 2010, was
thrown into doubt earlier this month when the Mississippi
Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that the commission failed to show
evidence that the plant would benefit the utility's customers as
required by state law. The court sent the case back to the PSC.
Mississippi Power did not immediately respond to a call for
comment on Friday.
Kemper opponents, including independent power producers,
said Mississippi Power could only justify customer savings by
using a long-term, high-priced gas scenario that did not take
into account the abundant supply of gas from shale-rock
IGCC technology heats coal to convert it into a synthesis
gas that is processed to remove numerous pollutants before being
sent to a traditional combined-cycle power plant to produce
Kemper was designed to showcase a gasification technology
developed by Southern Co to burn Mississippi lignite and had
support from state economic development groups and then-Governor