Kemper whistleblower sues Southern Co. for retaliation

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Brett Wingo, a former project engineer at the Kemper County energy facility.

A former Southern Company engineer who blew the whistle on problems at the Kemper County power plant is suing his former bosses for retaliation.

Brett Wingo, an Alabama resident who worked for Southern Company from 2007 to 2016, filed a federal lawsuit alleging the company retaliated against him after he informed federal agencies of his concerns about the project. According to court documents, Wingo contacted those agencies after he informed Southern Co. management in 2013 and 2014 of similar concerns about the project, including that a planned 2014 operation date was not possible.

“Southern Company management again and again offered false promises about the feasibility, schedule, and safety of their Kemper County, Mississippi power plant (the “Kemper Project”) – a ‘first of a kind’ power plant that promised to deliver cleaner, more affordable electricity while using proprietary ‘clean coal’ and integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology,” Wingo wrote in the complaint.

A Southern Co. representative said the company does not have a comment on the case at this time. 

The U.S. Department of Energy provided $407 million in financing for the Kemper plant.

In 2014, Wingo wrote to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission detailing his belief that Southern had engaged in fraudulent, material acts and practices. In 2015, he filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging retaliation in violation of Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

“Manager after manager for Southern Company warned Mr. Wingo to drop his reporting of issues, threatening that he was ‘digging a hole’ for his career, and that he simply needed to let others ‘handle’ the issues he had raised,” the complaint states.

Wingo says in the suit that his February 2016 firing was in retaliation for sounding the alarm about issues dogging Kemper. In February 2017, OSHA issued an order saying Southern broke the law and violated whistleblower protections, and ordered Southern to reinstate Wingo. The company refused, the suit says.

Meanwhile, the Mississippi Public Service Commission on July 6 called on Mississippi Power, a unit of Southern, to ditch its clean coal plans and only operate the plant as a natural gas facility, which the plant has done in part since 2014.

Mississippi Power suspended its lignite coal gasification construction at the plant on June 28,  and is pending the outcome of settlement talks. Mississippi Power has until August 21 to file a settlement proposal with the commission.

Wingo’s lawsuit seeks a judgment against Southern for violating state and federal law,  two-times back pay and lost benefits, plus compensatory and punitive damages and attorney’s fees.

  • Charles Pearce

    Speaking of “digging a hole,” there is not a hole deep enough for Southern Company to bury all of its corporate stench.