Coal is still king at Mississippi Power

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi Power has requested a nine percent rate increase to cover the rising cost of fuel it uses to make electricity. About 70 percent of the company's power is produced by burning coal.

"We have historically burned a little over two million tons of coal a year at this plant, Plant Watson," said David Mauffray.

All that coal is shipped by barge 365 days a year. Tug boats push the loads of coal down a channel that connects Biloxi Bay with the power plant.

"On a busy day, on a full load day in the summertime, we'll burn about five barge loads of coal a day, which is 75 hundred tons. It is our most economical fuel for our customers at this point in time. And, historically, has been," said David Mauffray.

Mauffray is the man responsible for buying and shipping all this coal. He must also be certain there's a 40 day stockpile on hand.

"We have to be ready for any kind of contingency with the weather or for situations where maybe some other plant that's supposed to be operating has a problem," Mauffray said.

Since coal prices have been dropping in recent months, why the nine percent fuel increase for customers? Part of the answer involves when that coal is purchased.

"We actually bought that coal for this year and for the next couple years, a portion of the next couple years, during the middle of 2008 when prices were very, very high," said Mauffray.

While coal is still responsible for producing more than half of this country's electricity, the fuel source has come under increasing criticism for its environmental impact.

A New York Times editorial called coal "an inherently dirty fuel."

"As a result of burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, there are going to be some things you are emitting. But we make sure we're following and complying with all the laws. We're also very, very proud of that," says Mauffray.

Mississippi Power controls 34 barges and three tugboats that transport that coal from the Alabama state docks in Mobile, to the power plant in Gulfport. In Jackson County, Plant Daniel receives its coal supply by freight train.