By Thomas Baldwin, Biloxi, MS
March 18, 2013
This is a brief paper which summarizes some of what has been reported on the technology associated with IGCC (coal gasification) power plants around the world. As everyone may not recognize, the Kemper Coal Plant in Mississippi utilizes the latest technology to build a power plant to generate over 500 Megawatts of electricity. As power plants go, this is not a huge plant by generation standards.but it does represent a huge expense imposed on the citizenry of Mississippi to pay for this impending debacle. Although I will focus on the probability here of success, I will also comment on the financial aspects later. I will leave the environmental aspects of this experiment for others who know much more than I do about this particular project. I want to keep it as simple as I can!
Although the illustrious “genius” and the chairman of the three members of our MS Public Service Commission, Leonard Bentz, has maintained this technology has been “thoroughly tested”, I contend that he is does not even understand this project and merely a stooge for Miss. Power and its parent, the Southern Co.of GA. I don’t believe he understands anything about the technology or anything about the risks and potential hardships involved for the citizenry/ratepayers of Mississippi. He actually publicly scolded us in the most recent PSC hearing he chaired in Jackson to grant Miss. Power rate increases to pay for this boondoggle and ultimate debacle. He accused all of us for putting out false information. Thus, he immediately showed his lack of understanding and disrespect in an afternoon session of the cost implications. As Forrest Gump told us: “Stupid is as stupid does.” Mr. Bentz should watch the movie “Forrest Gump” again.
So let us explore briefly the record of “clean coal” technology to generate electrical power. I will include my sources here for you to read but frankly it ain’t rocket science to understand the scam and atrocity being imposed on us in the State of MS. So I will attempt to summarize as best I can.
THE HISTORY AND RECORD OF IGCC (COAL GASIFICATION) PLANTS
There are numerous sources here which you can easily explore yourself just by searching (Google). I will present a few of those here and present excerpts from those articles. This is about the plant that the Southern Co. (yes the parent of Miss. Power!) is attempting to build in China! I will add to that the experience of Duke Power in Indiana. Oh how wonderful this “web” of progress, huh?
Some Recent History
This source now is nearly a year old but is still significant. Read this message!!
“GreenGen and the handful of other IGCC coal plants in various stages of construction worldwide—including another plant in China and two in the United States—are the sole survivors among dozens of IGCC projects proposed and shelved over the past decade. Most fell by the wayside only in the past few years. A push for carbon legislation in the United States collapsed, as did the 2009 climate treaty negotiations held in Copenhagen. Without such measures, utilities have no incentive to invest in carbon capture. Over the same period, coal progressively lost its status as the cheapest fuel for power generation, as hydraulic fracturing operations flooded the natural gas market and slashed gas prices.
The resulting IGCC casualties include even FutureGen, the flagship project in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Coal program and the inspiration for GreenGen. The Bush administration killed FutureGen in 2008 amid rising costs. The project may return under President Obama but as a test of a simpler but even less-proven low-carbon coal scheme known as oxyfuel combustion.”
Source: The above is from a source entitled: China’s first coal gasification power plant opened in Tianjin. http://www.whatsontianjin.com/news-3524-china-s-first-coal-gasification-power-plant-opened-in-tianjin.html
I don’t want to overload with you with data or information here. Just some facts, mam and gents. This little 3 billion dollar plant that Miss. Power and the Southern Co. of GA are building in Kemper County represent an enormous risk and potential disaster and the citizenry of MS are being asked to assume all of the risks by their corrupted state government.
Let’s look at another specific example in the U.S. The Edwardsport, Indiana, IGCC plant by Duke Energy was begun in 2007. I can’t determine whether it is running yet but I believe the cost overruns were almost exactly what is being projected for Kemper, about one billion dollars. It’s not clear whether it is even operational or not. Here’s a report on that from the latest one I could find and here are some excerpts:
“In 2007, Duke Energy Indiana began construction of a 618 megawatt (MW) integrated gasification combined cycle power plant. This plant was to be the first of its kind of its size. The gasification process at the new plant involves converting coal into a combustible syngas that will be used in a combustion turbine. The exhaust gases are routed through a large heat recovery steam generator that will be used in conjunction with a steam turbine to further increase the plant’s efficiency.The new plant is slated to be a base-load station. The construction of the plant has reserved the necessary space required for carbon capture and storage if Duke Energy decides to add this component to the plant at a later date. However, when the plant was originally planned, it was thought the site was ready for carbon injection. After conducting further research, it was determined that the site is actually not geologically suitable for underground storage of carbon. Instead, Duke Energy Indiana would need to seek approval to construct a pipeline to transport carbon to a more suitable site.
Edwardsport’s pollution per unit of energy produced will be greatly reduced, as particulate matter and mercury will be removed from the syngas. The coal-derived synthetic gas is much cleaner than conventional coal combustion to begin with, and it is easier to clean to greater extent. Coal gasification allows carbon capture to occur before the fuel is combusted — a much easier and economically feasible operation than carbon capture of exhaust gases.
It is expected that Edwardsport IGCC will be online during 2012.
Cost overruns and controversy
The construction of the Edwardsport IGCC has been clouded in controversy and legal troubles for both Duke Energy Indiana and the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Thus far, the legal issues have resulted in the firing of the second highest ranked executive for Duke Energy, the dismissal of the Chairman of the IURC, David Lott Hardy, and Hardy’s subsequent indictment for three felony counts of official misconduct in cases concerning Duke Energy.”
So what are we to believe? Well certainly not the arrogant attitude of Leonard Bentz, our PSC representative from So. MS. I can’t put into words that might appear in the press anywhere which would describe my attitude toward this man. And this is only a brief blog which represents much more to come!
THE FINANCIAL DISASTER
This part has become clear and the MS Sierra Club has done an extraordinary job of bringing this to the forefront. It is so complicated with a web of political deceit that it is hard to simplify in a paper like this. But it is analogous on a smaller scale to what the big banks have been doing to us for hundreds of billions of dollars in the U.S. Basically these big corporations like the Southern Co. are trying to use their political power to drive the rest of us into total poverty and dependency by gaining control over our political institutions including our Executive and Legislative branches of government. This is the essence of corporate fascism. And folks, they’re winning their war and especially in MS!
Exhibit: The Mississippi Power Kemper Plant.
Kemper was originally proposed as the grand state of the art “clean coal” power plant near Meridian, MS even outside the Miss. Power territory. When no other state wanted to build it, our former Governor Haley Barbour realized it was a great idea to serve his long term client, the Southern Co., and bring it to Mississippi. There was about 300 million dollars from the Department of Energy to build a clean coal facility somewhere and Barbour said we’ll do it for you in MS. The Southern Co, Mr. Barbour and others thought it was a great idea. But the Southern Co., a large private company could not get private investments to supplement their plans to do this. Amazingly there was a bill in the Mississippi legislature in 2008 to allow public utilities like Miss. Power to charge their ratepayers to build a facility (whether it would come online or not) for the construction charges of a commercial private and experimental power plant. Governor Barbour quickly signed a bill in the state legislature to fund it and guess what happened? Lo and behold, a Kemper Coal Plant with hundreds of acres of a strip mine in Kemper County was designed.
It was touted as the numerous “jobs” it would produce. Yes, there were construction jobs for a couple or more years and they were supposed to be for those in MS. But that has not been the case. The permanent jobs created were to be about 260 or so and no one knew whether they would be transfers or even new jobs. But at the costs proposed for this plant, they would represent about 15 million dollars invested for each job with the “left overs” going to Miss. Power. Not bad, huh? Then there is the cost for each ratepayer (186,000) expected to pay for this monster. That’s about 15-20 thousand dollars a piece.
But of course, Mr Bentz, our PSC Commissioner was obviously not good in math either. He has continuously touted what a great service he did by just authorizing Miss. Power to allow it’s first step in increasing rates for electricity by 12% followed by an additional rate increase of 3% within a year. And this does not even include the rate increases which is anticipated by the additional one billion dollar bond issue to pay for cost overruns which could include an additional 5% cost increase in rates. In other words, within a year, the total cost increase of our electricity in So. MS could be at least 20% or nearly what Miss. Power requested in the first place!
The financial aspects of this picture are a big “duhhhh”. Never has any alternative like the uses of solar, wind, renewable energy sources, or conservation been considered. This would create many more jobs and represent the future. But that’s because the Southern Co. under the “leadership” of CEO Tom Fanning, and Miss. Power under the “leadership” of CEO Ed Day can’t figure out how to make money over “controlling” the energy from the sun.
Oh my. Is this what our corporate world which is controlling our government has come to??
**Photos are all from previous publications: Top photo is by Ralph Solonitz. Others are originals and authorized for use by Thomas Baldwin.
About the author: In approximate terms, Dr. Thomas Baldwin has had a 20 year career as a Physicist (Ph.D.) and a 30 year career as a Management Consultant (MBA). He is currently retired in Biloxi, MS and looking for work other than just writing blogs like this which is a labor of love! Have computer; will travel!