KEMPER COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - In a WLOX News Now exclusive, we take you to Kemper County and see the much-maligned plant that's about to turn lignite into electricity.
Mississippi Power executives invited us to east Mississippi this week. They answered critical questions while showcasing their state of the art power plant.
Company officials readily admit their lignite project is over budget and behind schedule, and that's caused quite a bit of angst for customers, for opponents of the Kemper County project and for power company executives.
By the time the summer is over, the delays should be a thing of the past.
An elevator ride takes you to the top of the Kemper County lignite plant. The view 240 feet above Mississippi Power's 3,000-acre investment gives you a glimpse at what six years and more than $6.5 billion have produced.
"I think it's a plant for the future. I think it's going to serve the customers of Mississippi Power and the State of Mississippi for many, many years to come," said Mississippi Power President Anthony Wilson.
"If you look behind you, you can see four flare stacks," said plant manager Bruce Herrington.
Herrington understands the science behind this plant's ultimate mission of turning lignite, a kind of coal, into usable electricity.
"Making sulfuric acid. Making anhydrous ammonia, capturing CO2 and then sending the rest of the syngas to the combine site," explained Herrington.
Critics have feasted on Mississippi Power's lignite plant since its inception. Environmentalists questioned the initial concept. The Public Service Commission and the state Supreme Court both raised red flags about the Kemper County project.
It's way behind schedule, and its construction costs now top $6.5 billion. That's billions more than what Mississippi Power first predicted.
Despite the intense scrutiny, company leaders say in the coming months, the lignite portion of their plant will benefit Mississippi Power customers. They say it will bolster the Mississippi economy for decades to come.
"We're getting close to actually being able to feed the lignite into the coal, into the plant, which is actually the fuel source we'll be using," said Wilson. "Over the next two, three months, we will actually begin to make electricity lignite."
"Those are the teeth marks of the machine that we used to load the dirt," said Kim White.
White's company mines lignite from property adjacent to the Kemper County plant.
"Our contract with Bruce is 40 years. Bruce and I will still be going in 40 years," said White.
The dark hills on Kemper's horizon are examples of what North American Coal has mined and will mine to make this lignite plant work.
"In that 40-year timespan, at the current levels, we'll mine 175 million tons of coal. Bruce is going to take every ton of it and make gas, make electricity," said White.
The company stresses customers will not pay for the additional construction costs, and on this tour, executives maintained their decision to build the Kemper County lignite plant would pay dividends for everyone.
"At the end of the day, I think we'll find that the plant serves the state very, very well at a price that is within the bounds that it was originally certificated," said Wilson.
You may not realize this, but the Kemper County plant first went online August 2014, using natural gas to produce power for thousands of customers.
The next objective is to have the synthetic gas created by lignite to produce electricity. We learned on our exclusive tour that should happen between now and the end of September.