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‘Clean coal’ plant will not use coal, operators announce

‘Clean coal’ plant will not use coal, operators announce
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The operators of the largest “clean coal” power plant project in the United States announced Wednesday that they no longer plan to utilize coal at the facility.

Southern Company and Mississippi Power said in a statement that they will suspend efforts to turn on the coal gasification portion of the company's Kemper County power plant in rural Mississippi.

The facility will instead operate using natural gas, something the state’s Public Service Commission ordered at a meeting last week.

The decision closes a key chapter in the Kemper plant saga. The facility was highly touted and meant to be the first large-scale facility in the United States to utilize coal in a way that didn’t create carbon dioxide emissions. Such “carbon capture” power plants are seen as a path forward for the hobbled American coal sector.

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But Kemper ran into construction delays and cost overruns. Southern Company has spent seven years and $7.5 billion attempting to turn on the coal component of the plant. But when operators began testing the coal gasification process last fall, further problems emerged, including leaking.

Mississippi Power asked regulators earlier this month for permission to charge customers more to compensate for the increased costs of the coal portion of the facility.

The Mississippi Public Services Commission instead voted unanimously to require the plant either operate its coal process at current costs or run entirely on natural gas instead.

“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 Commission,” Southern Company Chairman and CEO Thomas Fanning said in a statement.

“We believe this decision is in the best interests of our employees, customers, investors and all other stakeholders."