Legal & Regulatory

Amid Scrutiny, Kemper IGCC Project Marks Big Syngas Production Milestone

Southern Co.’s Kemper County energy facility—the only carbon capture and storage (CCS) integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plant that is under construction—is producing syngas using lignite.

The plant marked its most significant milestone to date on July 14, said Southern Co.’s Mississippi Power. It means that the first-of-its-kind technology to convert locally mined lignite to syngas by heating it at high temperatures in the plant’s gasifiers is one step closer to commercial operation.

The plant is not yet generating electricity from the syngas, clarified Mississippi Power President and CEO Anthony Wilson (see embedded video). “What will happen over the next few weeks is we will take the syngas through a purification process, and that’s really the next section of the plant that we’re starting up.”

The “pure gas” will be introduced into the generating turbine to make electricity. The production of syngas is significant because it advances the project towards proving that the technology is scalable and will be an essential part of the state’s, “and really the country’s and the world’s energy future,” Wilson said.

The IGCC plant uses the air-blown TRansport Integrated Gasification (TRIG) technology jointly developed by Southern Co., KBR, and the Department of Energy at the Power Systems Development Facility in Wilsonville, Ala. The plant is also designed to capture at least 65% of the carbon dioxide from the syngas. The carbon dioxide will be sold for enhanced oil recovery, the company said.

While it has been lauded for demonstrating the novel technology, the much-watched project has come under scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is conducting a formal investigation concerning costs and delays plaguing the plant.

Mississippi Power’s current total cost estimate for the project is about $6.58 billion, which includes about $5.35 billion of costs subject to the construction cost cap. Compared to the $2.2 billion originally estimated in 2004, total costs for the project have now trebled.

The 582-MW plant, under construction in Kemper County, Miss., is more than two years behind schedule. The in-service date for the entire facility is now expected in the third quarter of 2016.

Earlier this month, meanwhile, The New York Times published a scathing article alleging that the plant’s owners drastically understated the project’s cost and timetable, and attempted to obscure problems as they emerged. The newspaper cited documents and hundreds of secretly recorded conversations provided by a whistleblower, Brett Wingo, who was an engineer at the project.

The Times has released those documents in a timeline published at The History Project. The numerous documents include Southern Co. financial filings, independent monitor reports for Kemper’s progress, federal and state government reports on Kemper, lawsuits filed by Southern Co., and reports from other parties, including environmental groups.

Southern Co. refutes the article’s accuracy, saying it attempts to “deliver a pre-conceived narrative.” The company also claimed that the article captures “specific phrases from sometimes years-old conversations—without providing appropriate context—to achieve a pre-determined objective and tone.”

Mississippi Power is dedicated to completing the project the “right way” for the benefit of customers, the company added. “For example, faced with challenges indicative of a first-of-its-kind project, Southern Company has taken charges totaling $2.5 billion, helping ensure the project will deliver the same value to Mississippi Power customers as initially intended.”

Finally, Southern Co. said that it had already investigated concerns raised by former employee Brett Winger, both through its internal employee concerns process and by engaging a third party.

“In addition to its internal investigation, the company sought outside counsel to conduct a separate investigation of concerns he reported to further ensure the integrity and reliability of its internal investigation findings. The investigations into Wingo’s concerns both reached the same conclusion—that his concerns were unsubstantiated and not otherwise supported by the facts,” it said.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)




SHARE this article