A federally-funded carbon capture facility is planned for a site adjacent to Mississippi Power’s Kemper County Energy Facility.
The facility will be managed by the Southern States Energy Board and will receive $17.4 million in federal grants and $6.1 million in non-DOE funds for a total of $23.59 million. Up to 900 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from three Southern Company power plants — Plant Ratcliffe (Kemper), Plant Daniel and Plant Miller — will be stored underground. The facility will receive about 22.5 million metric tons of carbon emissions per year.
On April 24, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy announced $131 million in grants for carbon capture, utilization and storage research and development. Five projects, including the one in Kemper County, were selected for funding.
The projects will assess safe and cost-effective commercial scale geologic storage sites and examine the technological and economic viability of carbon capture or purification technologies and the National Energy Technology Laboratory will manage the selected projects.
Two of those plants that will be sending carbon emissions to Kemper County are Mississippi Power plants, with Plant Daniel located near Moss Point and Plant Ratcliffe in Kemper County (also known as the Kemper County Energy Facility). Plant Daniel has two gas-fired combined cycle units (1.07 gigawatts generation capacity) along with two coal-fired units (500 megawatts capacity).
Plant Miller is located near Birmingham, Alabama and has a capacity of 2.64 gigawatts from four coal-fired units.
The Southern Company has already built a couple of pilot carbon capture programs at Plant Barry near Mobile, Alabama and Plant Daniel.
The other carbon capture projects receiving DOE grants include:
- The Illinois Storage Corridor will construct two capture facilities and receive $25 million in federal funds.
- The San Juan Basin in New Mexico will store carbon emissions from a nearby power plant, with some of the carbon dioxide to be stored at a site in northwest New Mexico and the rest sent via pipeline for enhanced oil recovery in the Permian Basin. The project will receive $21.9 million in federal grants.
- The North Dakota project will store carbon emissions from a nearby coal-fired power plant and receive $24.9 million in federal funds.
- Wyoming will build three storage sites to handle carbon emissions from a coal-fired power plant and will receive federal grants totally $19.1 million.
The controversial Kemper County plant was originally intended to be fueled by synthesis gas produced from a form of low-grade coal known as lignite using an expensive and complex chemical process. The $7.5 billion plant was also meant to have an elaborate component that removed 65 percent of the carbon emissions and other byproducts from the gas stream for sale to industrial customers.
A pipeline was built to move the carbon dioxide to two customers for enhanced oil recovery under an agreement that later ended in litigation from both customers.
The Southern Company is also presently involved with litigation with stockholders over allegations that misleading and false statements were made by company officials regarding Kemper’s operational date, which was delayed countless times.
Since Mississippi Power could never get the plant working on a reliable basis and costs continued to escalate, the Mississippi Public Service Commission, the utility and intervenors such as Chevron and federal agencies that are Mississippi Power customers reached a settlement in 2017 that ended all attempts to get the gasifer units (which converted lignite to syngas) operational.
The plant is now fueled by natural gas. Scrapping of the gasifer units and remediation of the lignite mine are scheduled for completion by 2024.
According to a 2019 quarterly earnings filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the utility is under a civil investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. An earlier SEC investigation ended without disciplinary action.
On March 17, the PSC passed an order unanimously that removed the separate rate charge for Mississippi Power customers for Kemper.
Mississippi Power’s 187,000 ratepayers on the Coast will only pay about $1 billion of Kemper’s capital costs, avoiding double-digit rate hikes to pay for the multi-billion plant.
If Mississippi Power could’ve gotten the plant commercially operational — even for a few days — and the PSC approved of the utility’s spending, ratepayers would’ve had to pay more than $3 billion rather than Southern Company stockholders.
The plant was supposed to cost $2.4 billion, but the cost ballooned by 212.5 percent to $7.5 billion.