Wall Street Journal: “Mississippi Plant Shows the Cost of ‘Clean Coal’”

Posted By Lowell F. on October 14th, 2013

As much as the coal industry likes to pretend that there’s such a thing as “clean coal,” it simply isn’t true. From the process of mining the coal to its transportation and combustion, not a thing about it is “clean.” Not the least of coal’s problems is that it’s the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel. One possible solution to that problem involves capturing and “sequestring” the carbon (the process is called “Carbon Capture and Sequestration,” or CCS). The problem is, CCS is extremely expensive, to the point that if it were required, it would likely render coal uncompetitive with other energy sources – natural gas, wind, solar, etc. And that cost problem doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

Now, along comes a Wall Street Journal article which blasts the myth of “clean coal” into oblivion.

For decades, the federal government has touted a bright future for nonpolluting power plants fueled by coal. But in this rural corner of eastern Mississippi, the reality of so-called clean coal isn’t pretty.

Mississippi Power Co.’s Kemper County plant here, meant to showcase technology for generating clean electricity from low-quality coal, ranks as one of the most-expensive U.S. fossil-fuel projects ever—at $4.7 billion and rising. Mississippi Power’s 186,000 customers, who live in one of the poorest regions of the country, are reeling at double-digit rate increases. And even Mississippi Power’s parent, Atlanta-based Southern Co., has said Kemper shouldn’t be used as a nationwide model.

Meanwhile, the plant hasn’t generated a single kilowatt for customers, and it’s anyone’s guess how well the complex operation will work. The company this month said it would forfeit $133 million in federal tax credits because it won’t finish the project by its May deadline.

One of just three clean-coal plants moving ahead in the U.S., Kemper has been such a calamity for Southern that the power industry and Wall Street analysts say other utilities aren’t likely to take on similar projects, even though the federal government plans to offer financial incentives.

All of which raises the question, why should taxpayers continue to fund the outrageously expensive science-experiment-cum-boondoggle called “clean coal,” especially when there are far less expensive – and cleaner – alternatives available (energy efficiency, wind, solar, etc.)? We’re stumped; how about you?

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