Britton: Kemper plant ‘not delivering, performing as promised’

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Public-service commissioner Sam Britton said Monday that even though the beleaguered Kemper County energy facility does not appear to be living up to its promises, utility regulators must consider all the information when evaluating the project.

Concerns persist among critics regarding the $7 billion-plus Kemper County power plant, especially since last week Mississippi Power Co. announced the plant missed its mid-March deadline and does not have a set deadline and cost estimate at the moment.

Mississippi Power

Mississippi Power’s Kemper County energy facility.

Britton, who represents the commission’s Southern District, acknowledged that the plant is a controversial and emotional topic. It is also among the main issues he ran on leading up to his election to the three-member commission in 2015, he said.

“At this point, Kemper is not delivering or performing as promised,” Britton said at a press luncheon hosted by the Stennis Institute of Mississippi State University. “And if Kemper does not deliver as promised, the utility company bears the cost.”

Speaking at the Capitol press corps luncheon, Britton said he wants to keep the public abreast of what happens next within the commission and what the commission can and cannot do about concerns over the plant.

For starters, the commission cannot really do much until Mississippi Power files its new rate case in June, he said.

Once the company files that report, the commission will review the evidence to determine if the plant has been built and delivered as promised, if the project was prudent considering the rising cost of construction, schedule delays, increasing operating costs and lower oil and gas prices.

Then, he said, the commission must determine if the plant is “used and useful,” asking if the plant will produce enough synthesis gas, or syngas, using lignite coal to operate at full capacity, or would the plant be more “used and useful” as it operates now, running on natural gas.

The public service commission will also not attempt to cease construction and operation of the plant, Britton said.

“The company is the one that has the obligation or responsibility to complete it,” Britton said. “Therefore, we need to let that remain with them. If you take that responsibility off of them, then you move that to the ratepayers. Obviously, I don’t think that’s a wise thing to do.”

Britton also highlighted that the plant is currently producing electricity that people are using, just not yet on lignite coal as Mississippi Power intended.

“I would say it’s fair that they’re entitled to something,” Britton said. “The only question is, ‘How much?’ Once we get into the rate case, we will address those issues.”

Britton also touched on the current state of national energy policy, which includes conversations about lower oil and gas prices and the argument for either fossil fuels or renewables.