Conference in Biloxi explores future of Southern energy

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi Power Company's controversial Kemper County plant has certainly attracted attention in our state. But the technology that will power that facility, is gathering interest around the world.

Mississippi Power's chief executive officer discussed the Kemper County operation at an energy conference in Biloxi on Monday.

"This plant will be the cleanest coal plant in the world when it comes on line," Ed Holland told the Southern States Energy Board conference.

And the world is taking notice. The power company chief executive says that China, Poland, Pakistan and India are among a growing number of countries interested in the coal gasification technology.

"We think the Kemper technology, what is being done in Mississippi, is the future of coal. If we are going to have economic security, energy security in this country, we've got to use the coal that we have available to us," Holland told those attending a morning session at the energy conference.

He said despite the high start-up cost, the energy producing facility will be worth the long term investment.

"How will it run? If there's an analogy, it will run like a nuclear plant. It has high up front capital costs, just like a nuclear plant does. It has extremely low energy costs. And will have extremely low energy costs over the 40 life year of the plant," said the Mississippi Power CEO.

The power company executive shared a video outlining the benefits of Kemper.

"Mississippi's Kemper County energy facility represents the type of revolutionary technology that can help meet this growing need in a highly efficient and environmentally responsible manner," said the narrator of the promotional video.

"We're all disappointed that the plant has had some delays and has some challenges. But that technology, if it works, and I believe it will, will change the world for using coal," said Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, who also is chairman of the Southern States Energy Board.

"We own the lignite that is being mined from around the Kemper plant. We know what the price will be over that 40 year period. Unlike, as the discussion has been today, the unknowns around where gas prices might go," said Holland.

During his opening remarks to the conference, Governor Bryant emphasized the relationship between energy and economic development.

"Clean, effective energy is the driver for the economy in this nation," he told the group.

For example, Governor Bryant explained how low energy costs helped Mississippi recruit a tire manufacturer to locate in West Point.

"TVA did a remarkable job of working with us to make sure we had that low cost energy. Now, a thousand jobs are going to be created there, perhaps more into the future, making Yokohama tires. You want to look at job creation? Look at energy. Every time we begin to expand clean, efficient energy in our states, jobs are created," said the governor

Six thousand workers are helping build Mississippi Power Company's Kemper County coal gasification plant. Once finished, it will provide 300 permanent jobs.

"That will be amazing technology. To be able to gasify coal in a clean and efficient manner will absolutely change the world. We all know we have coal reserves here in the United States. We're the Saudi Arabia of coal," said Governor Bryant.

The governor says countries like China will be looking closely at that technology and other production platforms.

"What are they looking for? Energy. They've got 1.3 billion people over there that are emerging into the middle class and they're trying to consume energy as quickly as they can because they know they can't get to where they want to be. And they want to be like us," he told the crowd.

Governor Bryant says energy is the life blood of our country and the soul of our economic development.

"We're not sure what the next big thing might be. But we're looking for it," he said.

Around 200 people are attending the three day conference, which wraps up on Tuesday. A panel discussion about energy related issues included an emphasis on over-regulation of the industry.

"The EPA is just going nuts. And we are kind of standing up in the ring and taking the blows. I think we should go back at 'em," said Harry Alford, CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.

"Are we making it too hard to do business here? And so as you look at it, what can we do to increase certainty, to make the regulatory process more time bound and transparent and to get things moving again? Because we're not building at near the rate that we could, because we're making it hard," said Karen Harbert, who represents the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

A question about the necessity of offshore drilling rigs prompted this response from the president of the Consumer Energy Alliance.

"Either you're going to have an offshore rig that's going to supply enough energy for multiple cities in the state of Mississippi and elsewhere, or you're going to have a hundred offshore wind turbines. You need one of 'em. Something is going to happen. We're in favor of both," said David Holt.

"It's not the environment or energy production. We have to do both. We absolutely have to do both," Holt emphasized to the group.

The conference wraps up Tuesday afternoon at Beau Rivage resort in Biloxi.

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