BLAKE A. WILSON: Proposed lignite plant would rate among best in the world

By Blake A. Wilson

A recent locally syndicated opinion column by Bill Minor published in the Daily Journal about the lignite power plant proposed by Mississippi Power for Kemper County deserves some broader perspective. Although the plant will not directly serve customers in North Mississippi, its future is important because it is key economic development tool for helping build the state’s competitive base.
The plant will be among the most modern in the world. It will not burn the lignite fuel source, but rather gasify it and then reclaim carbon dioxide created through the process for such uses as extracting oil from under-performing wells in Mississippi. Not only is it a clean technology but it has the endorsement of the U.S. Department of Energy.
It is a key component for economic development in Mississippi, because it assures the availability of reasonably priced electric power for the long-term. Building a major plant like this requires a look to the horizon, and the Public Service Commission has already rightly determined that Mississippi Power has a certified need for new generation. The Kemper Plant is the best option because it will provide power generated from a readily and long-available fuel source, available at a stable price. This sends a strong and positive economic development signal to those seeking to expand or locate in Mississippi.
Recent scientific test borings by qualified geologists at the Kemper County site show that the lignite is only about 50 feet below the surface and can be up to 15 feet thick. The column about the plant quoted a history book reference that lignite in east Mississippi can be found 1,000 feet deep. Fortunately, Mississippi Power called on geologists, rather than historians, to survey the Kemper County plant site and they found that lignite is readily available, close to the surface, without the need for a massive hole.
It is important to note that as the lignite is extracted at one end of the mine, workers will be reclaiming the land at the other end, so that the property is restored, leaving no trace of the mine behind. This is why landowners have voluntarily sold their mineral rights to Mississippi Power, because they know that their property will be both reclaimed and restored for the agricultural and recreational use of many generations to come. Over a 40 year period, digging and reclaiming, digging and reclaiming, the mine will remove this useful natural resource while at the same time reclaiming an area ultimately reaching approximately 19-square miles. Not all at one time, but slowly and deliberately over four decades.
In building the plant, Mississippi Power has asked the Public Service Commission for permission to have its customers pay only for the financing costs relating to construction, only during the time it takes to build the plant. A similar approach used by a homeowner who pays the bank for the financing cost of a construction loan while building a new house. This is also a tool used in 22 other states as well for making certain power plant construction keeps pace with growth and economic development needs. In the case of the Kemper County project, it creates a savings of $500 million over the life of the plant, because customers will not be paying interest on top of interest.
Forward thinking Mississippi leaders assured our future economic development success in 1987, by creating the AHEAD program to bring a four-lane highway in close proximity to all parts of Mississippi. The result was increased opportunity and jobs for our people.
Mississippi Power is also forward-thinking in proposing the Kemper County Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) Power Plant. It puts the latest in clean energy technology to work while at the same time taking advantage of an available and affordable Mississippi natural resource, to assure that our state is in the place of greatest opportunity for meeting the economic development needs of the future.

Blake A. Wilson is president of the Mississippi Economic Council. Contact him at bwilson@mec.ms.