KEMPER COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - After dealing with delays and budget overruns, construction is starting to wind down on Mississippi Power's $5 billion lignite plant in Kemper County. Officials said after some successful test runs, a new phase is getting underway. The company has begun hiring hundreds of permanent employees that will run the facility. They will be putting emphasis on making those job offers to Mississippians.
When Liberty Fuels Company agreed to spend the next 40 years excavating lignite for Mississippi Power's new coal gasification plant in Kemper County, the mining company also made a commitment to try to provide jobs to Mississippians. Officials said their challenge was hiring in an area where there had never been any mining, and where few locals had experience in the industry.
"We've got about 75 percent of our workforce from Kemper County or the counties directly surrounding Kemper, and a healthy portion outside that is still from Mississippi," said Matt Jones, Engineering Manager. "We've had tremendous luck finding very skilled construction type workers who have become excellent coal miners. We've got a fantastic work force, and we were able to hire mostly local."
While the coal plant went on line back in June 2013, Mississippi Power officials are hoping the lignite plant will be fully operational by the end of May 2015. Mississippi Power is in the process of hiring for the permanent positions.
"We've hired 167 of 220 so far. A good number of those are employees from the State of Mississippi. Our goal is to hire as many folks locally as possible," said John Huggins, Vice President of Generation Development. "We've put in a Keep Student training program that we've developed to hire students in the future. That's paying dividends. We've hired several of those folks already."
Mississippi Power and Liberty Fuels Company have had to hire outside the area for jobs requiring certain expertise but are training Mississippians so they'll be eligible to one day fill those positions.
"We're part of the community, and we want to make sure we're hiring our neighbors as much as we can. There was no mining here before, but there were construction jobs. So if you know how to run a small truck, you can learn pretty easily how to run a big truck," Jones said.
Mississippi Power officials said this summer they should be able to start generating electricity at the plant using natural gas. However, they said they'll only do that during periods of peak usage to make sure they can accommodate increased demand.