Mississippi Power Co.’s Kemper County energy facility

State utility regulators have escaped a looming legal challenge to its settlement with Mississippi Power concerning the Kemper County energy facility.

Thomas Blanton

Thomas Blanton, a Hattiesburg oil businessman who was the plaintiff in a state Supreme Court case that ordered Mississippi Power in 2015 to send refunds to its customers, announced Tuesday he will not file an appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court regarding the Mississippi Public Service Commission’s Feb. 6 order approving a settlement.

Blanton two weeks ago considered filing an appeal with the Supreme Court over what he considered underlying flaws in the settlement procedure.

One of them was how the commission voted to amend the plant’s original license so the plant can run only on natural gas, instead of requiring a new Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.

“There is no statutory authority to amend an existing Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity,” Blanton said in a public statement. 

Commission Chairman Brandon Presley said he stands by the commission’s settlement process and appreciates Blanton’s participation in the case by bringing many issues to the public’s attention.

Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley

“He has performed extraordinarily as a citizen,” Presley said. “We conducted extensive legal research on that matter through multiple attorneys and feel confident that action was, in fact, legal and abides by state statutes.”

Ultimately, Blanton said, further prolonging litigation surrounding the Kemper plant would not be in the ratepayers’ best interests.

“Blanton has little confidence that even a successful appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court will have any eventual outcome different from the political settlement adopted by the Public Service Commission through questionable means,” the statement says.

On Feb. 6, the Mississippi Public Service Commission unanimously voted to approve a proposed settlement for the Kemper County energy facility that relieves customers of paying for the project’s multi-billion coal gasification technology.

Instead, Mississippi Power customers will be charged for the plant’s natural gas, which they have used since 2014. Commissioners said customers will be paying $99 million annually over a period of eight years, and this figure includes recent federal tax cuts.

Meanwhile, Southern Co., Mississippi Power’s parent company, will absorb a vast majority of the $6.4 billion in project costs billed to Mississippi Power related to the plant’s coal gasifier technology.

The decision follows years of questions and concerns about the 582-megawatt power project. Mississippi Power Co. kept encountering delays due to bad weather, labor shortages, incorrect time and material estimates and other issues since the Kemper plant broke ground and began construction in 2010 near DeKalb.

Its original plans involved never-before-used technology that would convert lignite coal, which is abundant in the region, into a synthesis gas; remove emissions, such as carbon dioxide, from the gas; and then send the “cleaned” syngas to a combined-cycle generating plant to make electricity.

The plant’s technology was also expected to reduce carbon emissions, compared to traditional coal technology, by putting carbon dioxide into a nearby pipeline system. From there, oil companies would be able to purchase the gas to inject into fallow oil fields to bring valuable crude oil to the surface.

Years of missed project deadlines and cost increases ballooned project costs to more than $7.5 billion.

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