It will take at least another month for Mississippi Power Co. to launch the coal portion of its Kemper County power plant, now two years behind schedule.
The utility company’s Atlanta-based parent Southern Co. announced in its quarterly financial report filed Monday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it expects the plant to come on line by Oct. 31 instead of Sept. 30, the plant’s projected completion date since April.
Mississippi Power spokesman Jeff Shepard said Monday the extension will increase the project’s cost by another $43 million, and that the company will cover those costs, not customers.
“The $43 million in additional costs announced today covers the schedule extension and the estimate to complete the remaining commissioning activities and bring the plant fully online,” Shepard said in an email. “Specifically, the testing for the gas cleanup area.”
This bumps the project’s total cost up to $6.8 billion, more than double the original estimate. The plant and related lignite coal mine were originally expected to cost $2.9 billion.
The Kemper County plant has run on natural gas since August 2014. Another part of the plant set to launch that year would have converted lignite, a type of coal, into a gas that would create electricity and extract carbon dioxide and other pollutants.
Shepard previously said that harsh weather and other delays kept the coal portion of the plant from being completed. The plant’s delays and added costs have sparked lawsuits against Mississippi Power, as well as a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into the plant’s cost and schedule.
The company announced July 15 the plant started producing synthesis gas using lignite, calling it an important step in achieving full operation. The next step is using the gas to produce electricity at the plant, the company said.
Mississippi Power Co. and Southern Co. announced July 26 in another U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it expected to spend another $9 million on its Kemper County power plant.
Hattiesburg oil businessman Thomas Blanton, who was the plaintiff in a state Supreme Court case that ordered Mississippi Power in 2015 to send refunds to its 186,000 customers, said he isn’t surprised to hear about the project’s latest schedule delay and price increase.
“I expect them to push it back again and again,” Blanton said.
Blanton said it’s doubtful the project would operate as advertised at the price initially proposed because it involves combining unprecedented technology, taking on a massive project size from the laboratory to commercialization, and a delicate balance of heat and materials for everything to go right.
“They began building this plant with less than 15 percent of the drawings done,” Blanton said. “It was pie-in-the-sky, and they have burnt the crust and the filling has turned into pudding.”