Kemper County power plant debated in court - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Kemper County power plant debated in court

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GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -

The future of Mississippi Power Company's new Kemper County plant was debated in a Harrison County courtroom on Friday. The Sierra Club is challenging the Public Service Commission's order which allowed construction of that plant to move forward.

"You're spending all of your money up front, where you can never get it back. And you're committing yourself for the long haul. So, this thing is all about economics," argued attorney Robert Wygul, who represents the Sierra Club in this case.

He said those economics no longer justify the $2.8 billion Kemper Plant, especially given the low price of natural gas.

"We do know that the Kemper plant costs so much that natural gas prices have to be at a higher level than certainly anything anyone is looking at now. Or that realistically we were looking at then," said Wygul.

Mississippi Power's attorney says the company is dedicated to finding the best long term, reliable alternatives for customers.

"Kemper is part of that dedication," said attorney Ben Stone. "It's a part of the reason why they're trying to serve their customers. And customers are at the center of this and everything Mississippi Power Company does."

He had less kind words for the Sierra Club.

"It is the Sierra Club who disregards Mississippi Power Company's customers. The customers are pawns in the Sierra Club's strategy to kill coal. And that's the only way we can say it," he said.

"Mississippi Power right now is trying to protect the rate payers?  Give me a break. They're wanting the rate payers to pay for this up front and assume all the risk. And if it doesn't work, we still get to pick up the tab, even if it never generates one kilowatt of electricity," said Louie Miller with the Sierra Club.

"This is a long term decision based on our customers energy needs. This isn't a short term decision that's made just because natural gas prices dropped a couple of dollars in the past couple years. They're very low. And our customers are reaping the benefits of that right now," said Mississippi Power Company Spokesman Jeff Shepard.

The judge will issue his decision in three to four weeks.

The Sierra Club has suggested the Kemper County plant might be converted to a natural gas burning facility, rather than using lignite coal as a fuel.

The attorney for Mississippi Power said an analysis has already been done on that option and it was found to be extremely "cost prohibitive."

The Kemper County plant is scheduled to open in 2014.

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