Mississippi Utility Wants Public to Pay for Its Coal Boondoggle

Jon Knox/CC BY 2.0
Clearly no one wants coal pollution affecting their health -- but Mississippians are being asked not only to live with pollution but also to pay for the privilege.

MS Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, have a plan that would leave ratepayers on the hook for its massively over-budget proposed Kemper coal plant. The estimated cost of the plant- -- which has been ballooning since the plan was announced years ago -- now stands at more than $3 billion.

"This boondoggle would result in the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the State of Mississippi: a 61 percent rate increase for the 186,000 customers on the state's Gulf Coast to the pockets of Southern Company executives," says Louie Miller, director of Sierra Club Mississippi.

"They want to make a bunch of power company executives richer at the expense of hard working Mississippians. It would have a ripple effect in the economy, as well as result in higher costs every time a person walks into their local grocery store, church, school, wherever -- we'll be paying for Kemper for the next 40 years."

Last week, Sierra Club Mississippi and coalition partners Mississippians for Affordable Energy, Gulfport NAACP, Harrison County AARP, and the North Gulfport Community Land Trust turned out close to 100 people to the state Public Service Commission hearing on the rate increase.

There, despite the outcry from customers, the PSC approved a $99 million rate increase for 2013 and more for 2014. This will be a huge blow to the MS Power small base of ratepayers.

Even worse? "This rate increase is only paying for the interest on the credit card. It does not pay for any of the real construction costs of the plant. That much bigger bill will come later," says Louie.

Frustratingly, the company did not file its latest status report on the plant until the night before the rate hearing, which meant that the Sierra Club and others weren't able to review it until after the PSC had voted. That report showed that the plant's total costs are now at least $3.75 billion.

If you don't live in Mississippi, you might not think this boondoggle affects you, but the situation definitely has a national angle. Kemper is an "experimental" coal plant that received $300 million from the U.S. Department of Energy in its push to promote so-called "clean coal."

"Why should the taxpayers subsidize this investment? If Kemper is such a wonderful idea, then by golly the Fortune 500 Corporation and its stockholders should be footing the bill, not the taxpayer and ratepayer," says Louie Miller.

Opponents also worry that if MS Power is allowed to move forward, Kemper will become a poster child for unproven "clean coal" technology, helping the coal industry promote and sell this scam around the world. Kemper would also result in a 45-square mile strip mine, displacing residents and destroying groundwater.

Activists with Sierra Club Mississippi have been fighting the plant for more than three years with a diverse coalition including everyone from conservative Republicans to the AARP and NAACP. Polling shows that a majority of Mississippians oppose the plan as well.

"Under the MS Power scheme, they are unloading all the risk of this power plant off of their shareholders and onto ratepayers," says Louie. "This experimental plant is over budget by hundreds of millions of dollars and months behind schedule. Why should our citizens pay through the nose for a dirty, unnecessary, and unbelievably expensive plant?"

Mississippi residents and millions of Americans nationwide know that continuing to invest in coal is a dirty and dangerous plan. Clean energy is the way to power our nation without bankrupting people or polluting our air and water.

Tags: Activism | Coal | MIssissippi

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